IMG_7438 The Palestinian Return Center started its International Conference titled, "UNRWA and Future of Palestinian Refugees", in London amongst considerable attendance of journalists, activists and academics.

The conferences started early in the morning where Nasim Ahmed, PRC researcher introduced the conference stating its purpose as showing solidarity with Palestinian Refugees at this time of difficulty. It will discuss UNRWA's work and progress, 60 years after its initial establishment in 1949, and it will highlight the many benefits of this organisation for refugees, dispelling the myth that it is the problem not the solution for the refugees.

Majed al-Zeer, General Director of PRC discussed the problems for refugees in Palestine, 60 years on. It is the responsibility of the international community to ensure the right of return of all refugees and to support the Palestinian struggle. Palestinians have been denied this right for 60 years, despite the fact that it is enshrined in human rights law. Dissolving UNRWA, as some have suggested should happen, would deeply affect the lives of the refugees that it supports in Palestine. The need for UNRWA has been supported by the Syrian President, as he commented to PRC's delegation to Syria to discuss Palestinian refugees living there. PRC has also conducted a survey of Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon which further supports the need for the continuation of UNRWA's work.Palestinian_Man

H.E. Prof Manual Hassassian began by stating that he hoped this would be the last time we can celebrate an anniversary of UNRWA. The Israeli occupation of Palestine is the longest occupation of all time. UNRWA has worked hard to provide services and sustain the Palestinian identity but the time for charity is over. Palestinians have the right to return, and to self-determination. If this were granted to them, UNRWA would no longer be needed: this right is what now needs to be addressed. Israel has continued to commit serious human rights crimes against Palestinian civilians, as has been reported by numerous human rights groups and, most recently, the Goldstone Report. However, the world has failed to respond; Palestinian continues to suffer displacement and humiliation. Approaching this issue requires a new outlook: UNRWA needs to look towards protecting UNRWA's human rights, not only providing services; Arab donors need to contribute more funds to relieve the suffering of Palestinians such as to the two thirds of Gaza's population who are refugees; and Europe needs to be more proactive in seeking a political solution for Palestinian refugees. The path to peace and justice needs to become a global effort.

The UNRWA representative discussed the history of UNRWA, to deal with dispossessed refugees. The occupation of Palestine, particularly since 1967, has now become the preoccupation of peace-agencies, rather than the dispossession of Palestinians. The debate about Palestine now needs to refocus around this dispossession. The UNRWA budget deficit it severely stunting the services that UNRWA can provide. In 2010, UNRWA requires 583 million USD to continue its work; it is anticipating 140 million USD deficit for 2010.

Clare Short opened by discussing the original 750,000 Palestinian refugees created in 1948 and how, at that time, the Israeli seizing of Palestinian territory and the resulting displacement of thousands of Palestinians was condemned internationally. However, 60 years later, the situation persists and has worsened with over 4 million refugees being scattered throughout the world. The right to return for Palestinians, prohibited by Israel but permitted by international human rights law, should be seen in the context of the Israeli right of return, which allows and Jew to enter Israel. Israel seems determined to weaken the Palestinians as demonstrated by the wall it has constructed, that has been deemed illegal by international courts. The UK, European Union and the USA should not stand by and watch Israel in constant breach of international laws in this manner. The Goldstone Report should urge these parties to act. There must be more support for the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign: it was done once with South Africa and it can be done again with Palestine.

Salman Abu Sitta began by remarking that this conflict is the longest was in history. 7 million refugees and displaced people continue to suffer whilst Israelis enjoy the use of 93% of Israel is Palestinian property. It is the duty of the Europeans and USA to enforce international law and force Israel to end its occupation. Instead we see the Europeans financially supporting Israel and the USA providing it with illegal weapons such as phosphorus. Europe played an important role in the formation of this problem and they should therefore play an important role in solving it. Funding should instead be given to UNRWA to support their work with the refugees. It is cheaper and easier to enforce international law than it is to fight wars in Afghanistan in Iraq and yet it is still not being implemented. Resolution 194 must be enforced and a Security Council Resolution to support UNCP should be issued.

To Be Continued...