June, 1957 Arab Refugees


Mr. Labouisse, in an interview in The Middle East Forum, warned that:

“… Unless there is more assurance of adequate funds for the future there is serious danger of losing a second generation of Palestinians. In my view, therefore, every effort should be made to open opportunities for refugees to lead constructive lives – now – in the Arab world, regardless of the ultimate political solution of the refugee question.  If this is not done a new generation will grow up without the incentive to play a useful part in society and in the expanding economy of the region.  There are great opportunities for Arab youth.  Regardless of the place of their ultimate homes, their labor and their skills are needed.  From a practical, as well as a humanitarian point of view, it is surely wrong to let them go to waste.”

Dr. Channing B. Richardson confirms the view of hostility toward UNRWA by Arab Governments:

“Toward UNRWA the attitudes of the governments vary between suspicion and obstructionism.  It cannot be denied that the outside observer gains the impression that the Arab governments have no great desire to solve the refugee problem and thus terminate the flow of international subsidy brought into the area by UNRWA and other related international and governmental agencies.

Finally, it must also be reported that, with the partial exception noted below, the refugees have not been wanted in the countries into which they have fled.  Egypt evacuated the few thousand refugees who fled there, turning them back into the tiny Gaza Strip and maintaining close guard lest any of the 20,000 there slip back.  Lebanon places severe restrictions on the refugees who have fled into her territories.  Syria, with the largest usable area of arable land upon which hundreds of thousands could begin life anew, will accept no more.

“Jordan alone has grasped some of the opportunities given by the presence of so many refugees to strengthen and expand her national life.”

Dr. Richardson sees in the youth of so large a part of the refugee population the hope for resettlement.  He says:

The refugee population is already a remarkably young one.  One-half of the total number is under fifteen years of age!  This fact may have a bearing on future acceptance of some compromise solutions to the over-all problem.  Such research as is available shows that the younger age groups produce more individuals willing to find groups.  Education also appears to lead toward this acceptance, and the 40 percent of children of school age now in UNESCO or other schools will probably increase.”

Further he notes:

The desire to return to their own homes, constantly reiterated and always close to the emotional surface, can easily and artificially be stimulated at any time by those wishing to lead them or to divert their thoughts from acceptance of resettlement.  As wholesale schemes come and go, the refugee is neither asked what he will give nor what he will accept.  The cycle of defeat, failure, mistrust and ignorance goes on and on with no evident way of breaking it.  Further disintegration can be expected.  If an effective appeal is ever to be made to the refugee, it will be based on belief and feeling and appreciation for the values of Arab society, not on Western rational thought.”

Development Promises Great Good

Dr. Richardson sees in development in the host countries and resettlement there of the refugees great good for all:

“The tragedy of 1948 may be turned into profit for the refugee and the country into which he has fled much as Greeks from Asia Minor.  The wrongs of the past must not be allowed to dominate the future.”

“The governments must be given proof that this situation is an opportunity for them to lead and direct their countries into eras of greatest prosperity and political stability.  They must be convinced that it is in their own self-interest to put the wrongs of the past out of their minds and to play a creative role in guiding the forces which will move the Middle East toward a better future.  They should note well that they are not in control of those social forces which make political success in the region such a fleeting joy.  Time is not on their side.  They must in all fairness be told firmly the limits to which the United States and other Western powers are willing to go in pouring financial and technical aid into the region.

Once this basic change in governmental attitudes has come about, the second step may be taken.  This is the effort to change the attitudes of the refugees themselves.  Again, incentives sufficiently strong must be found.  Recent steps toward the release of the refugees’ band accounts, now blocked in Israel, and toward compensating them for property owned in their former villages will encourage the fraction of the refugees now inclined to strike out for a new life.  Outside settlement possibilities must be made more attractive than the security and ease of camp rations.  The path of economic and social betterment must be discussed openly and frankly in the camps and attached to specific projects.  The movement out of camps in whole family or village groups must be ensured, rather than the selection of unrelated individuals for a given project.  Progressive landlords in all the areas must be given encouragement, and not labeled Communist.

When the attitudes of the two paramount groups, the governments and the refugees have changed, the West and the Middle East together must employ all their social inventiveness in an attack on the more technical problems of administration, finance, and natural resources.  Since the refugee problem is so closely woven into every one of the region’s major social facts, this means in essence a guided social and economic revolution.  Policy and field coordination among the agencies of the United Nations, United States, and other must be realized rapidly.  The pioneering roles of non-governmental organizations which dare to explore projects forbidden to the United Nations and governments must be used to the fullest possible degree.  It seems possible that among these experienced non-official private agencies may well be found they key to breaking the existing stalemate.  Their programs should, while remaining wholly independent, receive encouragement.  New land, power, and water resources can be discovered and brought into use on terms which serve the many and not the few.  Training schemes should be broadened to include both refugee and local populations.”

Source:  73

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