My Grandparents escaped from Czarist Russia...am I a refugee?

 

This begs interesting situation. To begin with, the descendants of those Jews who lived in Qalya, in Kfar Etzion, in Kfar Darom, in the Jewish Quarter and in Hebron until expelled by the Arabs should be receiving assistance by the UNWRA...but they don't. Even more so, their descendants are also entitled to receive assistance.

 

Let us take this idea a step further. If we take the concept of hereditary refugee status one step further and we apply it to all people (after all, we don't want to discriminate), how many refugees would the world have? Let see...the Pilgrims were refugees from religious persecution; therefore all descendants of the pilgrims qualify. The Jews expelled from Arab lands were certainly refugees, and their descendants comprise more than half the Jewish population of Israel...they certainly qualify. My grandparents left Europe to escape Czarist persecution...so I qualify. The Soviet immigrants to Israel were escaping a repressive regime. Native Americans in reservations also qualify; as do descendants of Holocaust survivors and virtually every inhabitant of any of the countries occupied by the Nazis in World War II...the list can go on forever and would eventually include virtually anybody alive today in our planet.

Article 1 of the United Nations Convention on the Status of Refugees as amended in 1967, states that a refugee is:

 

A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.."

 

I don't see any mention of “descendants” there...

 

Let us think what are the implications of including the descendants of refugees as entitled to assistance:

 

a) Children of refugees have no obligation to look after themselves, because the UNWRA provides for them.

b) The society where these refugees live will not feel inclined to help nor educate them because they are a UN charge and responsibility

c) There is no need to integrate these individuals into mainstream society, for they are taken care of.

 

As a further implication, the children of refugees can be kept forever in limbo and denied citizenship, something that most Arab countries have indeed done with Palestinian refugees.

 

 

So what would be the consequences of denying descendants of refugees the right to claim the refugee status? To figure it out, we can compare with the situation of descendants of refugees living in other parts of the world, such as Israel and the US

 

a) Children of refugees must find a way to succeed in life like any other citizen. While there is special aid available to compensate for the initial disadvantage, these children are encouraged to be the best they can be.

 

b) The children of refugees avail themselves of the Public Education system and have a chance at succeeding based on their own merits. They also have access to special benefits if necessary, same as any other citizen of the society in which they live, and of which they are part.

 

c) While not everybody makes it into the mainstream (in fact some remain in the margins of society), most of the children of refugees have a chance and an opportunity to take full advantage of what the society of which they became a part has to offer.

 

Palestinians who are today registered as refugees are in some cases the great-grandchildren of those who were displaced in the war of 1948, yet they are still denied citizenship in the countries where they were born and where they live; they are still forced to look to their host societies from the outside in rather than as members.

 

There are real refugees in the world...in Rwanda, in Sudan, in Southeast Asia, in Iraq, etc. I believe that the UN agencies (funded to a large extent with our tax-dollars) should focus on helping those who are suffering from their displacement and persecution; there is no shortage of need. Keeping children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of refugees as dependents of a welfare agency is enabling the societies where they live to ignore them, keep them segregated and marginalized. Even more, according to the UNWRA definition if a Palestinian who qualifies as a refugee under their definition marries outside the refugee community, their spouse becomes also entitled to be considered a refugee!

 

In my opinion, refugee help was never intended to keep people (or their descendants) forever marginalized; it was intended to help refugees rebuild their lives and become again productive, full members of society. If this is true, the UNWRA special definition is either an open admission of failure or a cynical exploitation of international aid.

 

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