Stocktaking Conference on Palestinian Refugee
Session: Future of UNRWA
Tuesday, 9 December 1997
Participants agreed that UNRWA has been under-researched in
the past. Given this lack, there are many important and
useful areas that could be examined, including the impact on
UNRWA on the conflict, refugees, and host countries; the
organization's current financial crisis; and the question of
how UNRWA can or might modify its mission and implementation
thereof so as to best respond to changing circumstances.
Finances and Sustainability
Since 1993 there has been a continuing degeneration of
UNRWA's financial situation. Because of this, in 1996 and
1997 UNRWA was forced to call emergency donor conferences.
The outlook for 1998 is even more bleak: even given
optimistic budget estimates, UNRWA will be $25 million short
of budgetary needs and will thus be unable to fulfil its
core responsibilities during a critical period. UNRWA cannot
continue to operate on a the basis of continuing crisis and
semi-institutionalized emergency donor meetings;
consequently, it has made efforts to both broaden and deepen
On the issue of donor support, one participant stressed
that the US, UK, Germany and Israel should assume the
primary burden of UNRWA funding, given their historic moral
responsibility for the refugee issue: US, UK, Germany and
Israel. Others suggested a greater reliance on
self-generated resources and cost recovery. During earlier
discussion in the main conference, the importance of donor
budget structures had been noted: in many cases donors
finance UNRWA out of the same envelope as other humanitarian
expenditures. At a time of decreasing resources for foreign
aid, this forces donors to make difficult choices between
support for Palestinian refugees versus other, more serious
and pressing humanitarian emergencies elsewhere in the
world. It was also noted that, as the refugee population
grows at a rate of 4-5% per year, the pressure on UNRWA's
budget was likely to grow rather than diminish.
It was suggested by other participants that attention to
UNRWA's financial sustainability may tend to obscure other
important issues: namely, UNRWA activities and their impact.
Some participants noted that UNRWA has not been an
introspective organization and has not been particularly
accessible to researchers in the past. However, this has now
changed, particularly in the last year. This has enhanced
the quality of research, which should lead to both more
useful data and a better self-understanding within UNRWA.
Other participants stressed that external researchers had a
particularly valuable role to play in this regard, given the
constraints on long-term policy planning within the
A number of specific research questions were identified
by various participants:
- How is UNRWA perceived, both by refugees and by host
societies? Historically, a lack of transparency and
participation has negatively affected the perceptions of
refugee beneficiaries. How can beneficiaries be better
integrated into program design and implementation?
- How has UNRWA transformed Palestinian society and its
proto-state? How has it affected both the
heterogenization (affecting, for example, class
relations) and homogenization (generation of a
Palestinian identity) of Palestinian society?
- Can UNRWA fulfil its current dual function:
preservation of the refugees through support for basic
needs, and protection of legal rights? Should some other
guarantee of refugees rights and status be formulated?
- What would be involved in a future wind-down of
UNRWA, following the conclusion of a final status
agreement on the refugee issue? How can post-peace UNRWA
services be transferred to host governments in such a way
as to protect the quality and coherence of services?
- How, in the interim, have UNRWA's relations with the
Palestinian Authority evolved? How might cooperation best
be fostered? What is the optimal division of labour in
providing services to refugees in the West Bank and Gaza
under present circumstances?
There was broad agreement across most of the discussion
group that, in the current context, further decline the the
quality of UNRWA services would exacerbate feelings of
deprivation and abandonment among refugees, with possibly
The PRRN/IDRC compensation workshop was funded
by IDRC and the Canadian
International Development Agency thrrough the
Expert and Advisory Services Fund. PRRN is a project of the Interuniversity
Consortium for Arab Studies (Montréal).
Last modified 23/12/97. Rex Brynenemail@example.com