What is The UNRWA?

As the Gaza Strip becomes to dangerous for humanitarian efforts some have questioned if the UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency) is a front for Hamas. The program begin after the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict.

“I have been authorised to say that in private briefings with diplomats, the Israeli army has admitted that the rockets from Jabalya (two days ago) came from outside the UNRWA school compound, not from inside it. Therefore the allegations against a neutral UN human development organization were entirely baseless. This increases pressure for an independent investigation. ”

Chris Gunnes, UNRWA spokesman

UNRWA was established by the United Nations General Assembly resolution 302 on December 8, 1949. The goal was then and remains true today to carry out direct relief and works programs for Palestine refugees. The program has been extended until June 30, 2011.

Since its beginning the Agency have helped refugees in times of calm and in times of conflict. Tens of thousands of refugees have been fed, housed and clothed because of the group. Young refugees are given education and heath care by the UNRWA.

As the needs change for the Palestinian refugees so does the program. Over 4.6 million registered Palestine refugees in the Middle East rely on UNRWA for their education, health, relief and social services.

The UNRWA has 59 recognized refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Prior to 1952 it also provided relief to those in Israel who were displaced.

The agency has been accused by Israeli officials of supporting terrorism. Shmuel Katz, an Israeli historian has claimed that the agency is deceptive.

In 2006 the United States criticized that the agency was being mismanaged. Wikipedia reports:

“After an exhaustive review of the UN’s own audit, it is clear UNRWA is wrought by mismanagement, ineffective policies, and failure to secure its finances. We must upgrade UNRWA’s financial controls, management and enforcement of US law that bars any taxpayer dollars from supporting terrorists.”

from a letter sent to Condoleezza Rice from US Congressmen Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Steven Rothman (D-NJ)

In response the UNRWA gave the results of students in syria and Jordan whose performances were over that of host-government schools. It also made it clear that the budget and the sheer refugee load do not also match.

Others have taken issue that it is the only United Nations project that works with only one specific group of refugee. It was stated in these claims that the Palestine refugees should have the same treatment as that of other refugees world wide. These claims state that it is an exampe of the United Nations anti-Israel bias.

Still other countries like, Bangladesh, Canada, Japan, Jordan, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Norway, South Africa, Turkey, Vietnam, and the Palestinian Authority praise the work that they have done. If donor countries, including the United States who gave $135 million in 2006, is any indication the work done by the agency is useful and meaningful.

Because the people in question, the Palestine refugees, are without a homeland they do not fit in a standardized refugee textbook.

The recent conflict in the Gaza Strip with Israel is bringing the UNRWA under the microscope.

On Wednesday two workers were killed by Israeli tank fire when they were driving a marked truck to pick up aid supplies.

On Tuesday a sanctioned school was bombed resulting in 40 civilian deaths. The UNRWA has called for an investigation on this incident to see whether the attack was a violation of international humanitarian law.

The Israeli army has admitted that the attack on the school was unintentional and any footage of militants firing from inside was taken from 2007.

Haaretz quotes Spokesman Chris Gunness:

. “There are no up-to-date photos,” Gunness said. “In 2007, we abandoned the site and only then did the militants take it over.”

He was referring to the shelling in Jabalya that did not originate from the school.

John Ging, UNRWA Director of Operations in Gaza spoke on Tuesday saying that there is no where that is safe in Gaza. He is requesting a full ceasefire instead of the three hour ceasefires that Israel has given the past two days.


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