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U.N. Commissioner Presents Report on Arab Refugees to General Assembly

After 14 years of effort costing close to a half billion dollars, the problem of the Arab refugees being held in camps on the Arab borders facing Israel is “as intractable as ever,” the UN General Assembly here was informed today.

Dr. John H. Davis, Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, the international agency charged with the task of aiding the refugees, told the Assembly in his annual report today: “The whole issue of Palestine continues to complicate seriously almost every aspect of progress in the Middle East, as well as the relationship which this region has with the outside world.”

Submitting his fourth report, for the year ending last June 30, Dr. Davis noted that no progress has been made toward “repatriation” of the refugees to Israel or toward compensating them for the losses they claim as a result of their exit from Israel. “The refugees,” he stated, “are still embittered by the conviction that a grave injustice has been done to them through the loss of their homes and homeland, to which they continue to demand the right to return.”

Today’s report was the last to be submitted by Dr. Davis. He has resigned, “for personal reasons,” effective next December 31. No successor to his post has as yet been announced. UNRWA operates currently under a two-year mandate, set by the Assembly, last winter, to expire on June 30, 1965.

1,210,170 REFUGEES ON U. N. RELIEF; NUMBER WAS 960,021 IN 1950

It was noted that this year’s UNRWA report is far less political in its nature than those submitted by Dr. Davis in the last two years. Unlike last year, he made no reference to the thesis he propounded in 1962 to the effect that the basic rehabilitative and resettlement efforts of UNRWA should be dropped in favor of more educational, vocational and purely ameliorative operations.

Dr. Davis reported that, as of June 30, 1963, UNRWA was providing relief and other services to a total of 1,210,170 refugees living in the Gaza Strip, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. His figures showed that, as of June 1950, six months after the agency started its operations, there were 960,021 on the relief rolls. He noted that, as of June of this year, half of the refugees on the relief rolls were “under the age of 18.”

The size of the UNRWA relief rolls was explained by Dr. Davis in other sections of the report in which he dealt with efforts made over the years to “rectify” the relief rolls by removing from the registration records those who had died or had become ineligible due to self-support. Noting that the need for “rectification” has been “a chronic problem” since 1950, he reported that “in the intervening years, some 457,000 names have been deleted from the rolls.” But, he added, “a corresponding number of new names” have been inserted in their place. “The lists,” he stated, “still contain substantial inaccuracies.”

$37,950,000 REQUESTED FOR NEXT YEAR TO MAINTAIN ARAB REFUGEES

During the year under review, he reported, 31,739 names were canceled, as compared with 34,189 the previous year. “The problem,” he declared, “has two aspects; on the one hand, the cancelation of false and duplicated registrations and of the names of persons whose deaths have not been reported; on the other hand, the elimination of those persons who are working and no longer in need, either for themselves or their families, of food distributed through international charity. The problem of canceling the rations of those who have sufficient income to support themselves and determining the income level at which this should be done are, however, far more complex and dedicate.”

The report showed that, for the 12-month period ending December 31, 1963, monetary pledges by governments amounted to $34,742,929. Of that total, $24,700,000 had been pledged by the United States, $5,400,000 by Britain–and nothing at all by any member of the Soviet bloc. Since the agency began operating in 1950, its total expenditures have been $448,660,997–the greatest bulk of that sum, $315,968,069, coming from the United States.

Dr. Davis set the next year’s budget at a total of $37,950,000, close to last year’s expenditures. Of the total, $25,510,000 would go for relief services, while $12,440,000 would be spent for education and training.

In addition to its relatively milder political tone, there was no mention in this year’s report of earlier pleas for a “plebiscite” to give the refugees their choice of “repatriation” or compensation. The report and its implications will be debated, beginning next month, by the Assembly’s Special Political Committee.

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