Ex-UNRWA Official Blasts Agency for Politicizing Palestinian Refugee Issue

UNRWA responds by claiming that the report whitewashes Israeli role in complicating relief efforts.

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A former top legal official with the United Nations relief agency charged with providing for Palestinian refugees - UNRWA - issued a report last week critical of some of the organization's practices, accusing the organization of preoccupying itself with the political aspects of the refugee issue.

James Lindsay, who served as UNRWA's legal advisor and general counsel from 2002 until 2007, said the agency needs to adopt reforms if it is to adequately address concerns that it has politicized the Palestinian refugee issue.

Among Lindsay's recommendations are the need to end UNRWA assistance to hundreds of thousands of Jordanian citizens who qualify as refugees; shifting from a "status-based" system - whereby anyone who was defined as a refugee received aid even though he or she was more well-off than others - to a "needs-based" system of aid delivery; avoid involvement in political affairs; conduct more stringent background checks on its employees so it does not hire Palestinians who are members of terrorist organizations; and to enable those who wish to leave refugee camps to do so by expanding loans.

An UNRWA spokesman slammed the report, accusing the author of bias and a failure to employ a sufficiently wide range of sources.

"The agency is disappointed by the findings of the study, found it to be tendentious and partial, and regrets in particular the narrow range of sources used," Andrew Whitley, director of the UNRWA representative office at UN headquarters in New York, said.

"The study ignores the context in which UNRWA operates and the tight line the agency walks due to various pressures," Whitley said. "Someone reading this paper with no background would assume that the Israeli government was a benign actor. No mention is made of the occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip."



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