World Refugee Day: Advocate for Palestinian Refugees' Rights and to Reinstate US Support for UNRWA
In 2000, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution that established June 20 of every year to mark World Refugee Day, starting in 2001, a half century after the UN adopted the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, also known as the 1951 Refugee Convention. A subsequent treaty, called the Protocol Related to the Status of Refugees—to which the US is a party—took effect in October 1967. World Refugee Day is dedicated to raising awareness about the situation of refugees and internally displaced persons worldwide, and to advocate for their rights. Today, according to the UN, there are more than 68 million people who have been forced from their homes due to war, violence, and other reasons, including 25.4 million refugees and more than 40 million internally displaced.
Among the numbers of refugees include 5.4 million Palestinian refugees for whom the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) was established to provide critical services. Since 1949, UNRWA has offered basic needs, education and health services, as well as employment for Palestinians who could not otherwise find jobs commensurate with their skills and education. Throughout the Middle East, in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, the West Bank, and Gaza, Palestinians continue to rely on this agency’s presence. According to UNRWA, “In total, UNRWA serves 525,000 students in more than 700 schools, operates 142 primary health clinics, provides cash and food assistance to 1.7 million individuals, and employs approximately 33,000 refugees to run these services.”
In January 2018, the Trump Administration announced it would cut $65 million—more than half of the US’ pledged installment of $125 million. Then, in August 2018, it announced that it would cut all US support for UNRWA, amounting to more than $350 million annually.
Palestinians forced from their homes and dispossessed of their property in 1948-49, and their descendants, seek basic recognition of their rights, based on UN resolution 194 (1948), which states that those “wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property.” Until then, they remain stateless, and rely on the international community, through UNRWA, for sustenance and services.
On this World Refugee Day, call your Senators and Representative, urging them to work for the rights and dignity of refugees worldwide, including Palestinian refugees, and to restore US funding to UNRWA immediately—as part of the FY 2020 appropriations process—so that this essential agency’s care for more than 5 million people can continue.