In previous weeks we have presented the history of UNRWA and its failures as an organization that is mean to dela with the Palestinian refugge problem. This week, we present some information on UNHCR, the U.N. ‘s other refugee agency, as a contrast to UNRWA and a possible partner for future refugee rehabilitation. The Israel Initiative proposes that Palestinian refugees are transferred to UNHCR’s jurisdiction as a part of the first step in any peace process.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was established on December 14, 1950, to help Europeans displaced in World War II. The agency was established with a three-year mandate, and became a more permanent part of the UN after facing its first refugee emergency when the Soviet Union crushed the Hungarian Revolution. Since then, UNHCR has helped refugees resulting from the decolonization of Africa, crises in Asia and Latin America, and waves of refugees from the Balkan wars. In the 21st Century, UNHCR has done most of its work in Africa and Afghanistan. The agency won Nobel Peace Prizes in 1954 and 1981 for its assistance to refugees.
UNHCR defines a refugee as “any person who is outside the country of his nationality, or if he has no nationality, the country of his former habitual residence, because he has or had well-rounded fear of persecution by reason of his race, religion, nationality or political opinion and is unable or, because of such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of the government of the country of his nationality, or, if he has no nationality, to return to the country of his former habitual residence.”
This definition does not include descendants of refugees. It also does not specify where these refugees are from, because UNHCR takes care of all refugees, except for Palestinian refugees of the 1948 War of Independence.
UNHCR is “mandated to lead and coordinate international action to protect refugees and resolve refugee problems worldwide.” This role includes responding to emergency situations as well as providing aid with shelter, health, water and education. UNHCR also strives to find “durable solutions” for the refugees, through three options for seeking asylum and finding safe refuge: voluntary repatriation, local integration or resettlement.
UNHCR By the Numbers
UNHCR works in 118 countries, with a staff of about 6,650 with a budget of over $2 billion in 2009. The agency currently deals with 34.4 people: 14.4 million internally displaced people, 10.5 million refugees, 2 million returnees, 6.6 million stateless people and over 800,000 asylum seekers. By contrast, UNRWA has a staff of nearly 25,000 to deal with 4.7 million refugees in five areas, with a budget of $545.6 million.
Yoav Sorek is manager of The Israeli Initiative. Find out more: www.israelinitiative.com