U.N. Looks at Arab Refugee Topic, Adjourns Debate Due to Hot Issues
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U.N. Looks at Arab Refugee Topic, Adjourns Debate Due to Hot Issues

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The Arab refugee problem, always a touchy issue here when the General Assembly is in session, received its 1966 opening this morning when it reached the Assembly’s Special Political Committee. But the annual report about last year’s operations of the U.N. agency furnishing relief to the refugees contained so many sections due to raise unusually hot controversy that today’s session was adjourned until the delegations have an opportunity to formulate their reactions to this year’s problems regarding the refugees. No date for a resumption of the committee’s consideration of the topic was set.

Three sections of this year’s report, submitted to the Assembly yesterday by Laurence Michelmore, Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, promised to produce the most heat at this year’s Arab refugee debate. These were:

1) Mr. Michelmore’s admission that his agency is issuing rations to Arab refugees being trained for military service in the Palestine Liberation Organization, an army formed by the Arab League to make war against Israel;

2) His outright failure to “rectify” the UNRWA refugee registration rolls which, admittedly, contain many thousands of false claimants, including holders of ration cards originally issued to the dead and to refugees who can no longer be found at their original addresses;

3) His hint that the relief operations for the refugees may have to be reduced because of budget deficits.

This morning’s meeting was devoted only to a short, oral report by Mr. Michelmore, supplementing the voluminous, printed UNRWA report which he filed yesterday. Then Max Jacobson, of Finland, chairman of the committee, adjourned the session for the expressed purpose of giving the delegations an opportunity to give further study to the Michelmore report.


In addition to pinpointing the fact that UNRWA is now feeding the refugees in PLO, although through “additional funds” totaling $150,000 presumably provided by the Arab states, Mr. Michelmore’s report of failure on “rectification” of his agency’s registration rolls is expected to generate as much heated debate here as his section dealing with the refugees in PLO.

In his report, Mr. Michelmore told the Assembly he had made virtually no progress whatever, due to the opposition of Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, in his efforts to rectify the UNRWA ration rolls during the last year. The 1965 Assembly had given him specific orders to undertake such “rectification” of the relief rolls, aimed at elimination from the UNRWA rolls of the refugees who are employed, self-sustaining and otherwise ineligible.

The UNRWA chief reported that his “rectification” efforts in Egyptian-held Gaza resulted in cancelation of 4,625 rations out of a total registration of 286, 844. In Jordan, he stated, the Amman Government had asked UNRWA to defer temporarily all efforts at cleansing the relief rolls which, in that country, show a total registration of 652,732. In Syria, he declared, UNRWA is “satisfied” that the ration rolls are “reasonably accurate,” but he noted also that UNRWA “has renewed discussions” with the Damascus Government for means to verify “the presence in the country of persons on the ration list.” The number of refugees registered by UNRWA in Syria totals 123,306. In Lebanon, where there are 120,750 refugees on the UNRWA registration rolls, Mr. Michelmore reported “the routine work of verification is now proceeding normally, after a period, noted in last year’s report, when the Agency was able to make little headway.”

In all four host countries, he reported, the names of 33,607 persons, including 30,192 ration recipients were removed from the rolls during the year. He reported that, in the year under review, ending June 30, 1966, there was a total of 1,317,749 names on the UNRWA registration rolls, as compared with 1,280,823 the previous year. He conceded that there are “merchants” who continue to peddle ration cards originally issued to refugees.


As to the political situation posed by the very existence of the Arab refugee problem, Mr. Michelmore reiterated what he had reported earlier to the effect that the refugees “continued to maintain what they considered to be their lawful right to return to their former homes (in Israel) and to emphasize that the United Nations had given them assurance regarding repatriation or compensation.” He referred to a paragraph in a 1948 Assembly

“As year succeeds year, there is no sign that the refugees are becoming any less embittered by their conviction that a grave injustice has been done to them. The implications for peace and stability in the Middle East of the continued existence of the Palestine refugee problem thus remains as grave as ever.”

Mr. Michelmore presented a budget for 1967 totaling $39,338,000 compared with estimated expenditures of $37,831,000 in 1966 and actual expenditures of $37,619,000 in 1965. The current UNRWA mandate does not expire until 1969.

The budget figures, and Mr. Michelmore’s mention of the fact that only a large contribution from Sweden last year had rescued his relief operations from collapse, worried the Arab delegations here particularly because they are prepared to attack the United States for not giving enough money to care for the refugees, although the U.S.A. contributes 70 percent of the UNRWA funds and has done so consistently since the agency was born in 1950.

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