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Davis, Unrwa Chief, Finds ‘works’ for Arab Refugees Unacceptable

November 2, 1962
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The head of the United Nations agency whose job it has been to furnish “relief and works” for more than 1, 000, 000 Arab refugees on his rolls, today wrote off the feasibility of any “works” projects as “unacceptable.” In supplementary reports to the General Assembly, Commissioner General John H, Davis, chief for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, also told the Assembly that:

1. There are “at least 100, 000 dead persons” still listed on the UNRWA relief rolls, but that “rectification” of the rolls has been impossible because the Arab “governmental authorities” considered “the time was not opportune. “

2. All efforts at economic reintegration of the refugees that might lead to resettlement off the refugees in Arab states have had to be abandoned in the face of Arab governmental opposition and the opposition of the “Arab people. “

Mr. Davis made these statements, among many others considered expressive of the Arab points of view, in six “background papers” filed with the Assembly as supplements to his usual annual report, which he submitted last month. That report had been described as “tendentious” and pro-Arab. Today’s documents, totaling 135 pages, maintain the same tone. The “background papers” were drawn up to help the Assembly evaluate the entire Arab refugee relief program, since the United Nations must decide this year how and whether to continue operations like UNRWA’s after next June 30 when the agency’s current mandate expires. The Assembly’s Special Political Committee is scheduled to open debate on the Arab refugee problem soon.


One of the documents summarizes assistance given to the Palestine refugees, not only by UNRWA but by its predecessor UN agency, the United Nations Relief for Palestine Refugees, which went out of business in 1950. In that document. Dr. Davis again presented figures purporting to show that the Arab “host” governments–Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon–had contributed a total of $44,983,920 since 1948 to help the refugees. He admitted, however, that these figures were based “on data given by the Governments concerned. ” The total “contributed” includes Egypt’s expenditures for “security”–the cost of maintaining Egyptian police to guard the refugee camps in the Gaza Strip and prevent escape by the refugees.

Dr. Davis’ “historical summary” of UNRWA’s experience with “works” projects and self-support programs absolves the Arab Governments for failure to cooperate in plans advanced in the last 13 years for projects that would have helped integrate the refugees and end the problem. The Arab Governments, he maintained, have “not rejected the principle of economic development per se” but they have “affirmed the right of the refugees to return to their homeland. ” Dr. Davis made it clear that by the refugees’ “homeland, ” he meant Israel–as the Arab spokesmen insist here when they demand repatriation. “

He reported that, as far back as the period 1950-1955, there had been plans in which “much stress was laid upon large-scale projects, directly associated with refugees resettlement. ” But these plans “failed to achieve their purpose due to opposition “by the refugees themselves” and their “conviction that, to accept employment with the host governments, would be tantamount to renouncing the right to return home and perhaps even the right to compensation” by Israel.


Referring to the Johnston plan for a regional project to develop the waters of the Jordan River, Dr. Davis reported merely that the plan fell through because “Arab-Israel collaboration was not possible.” He failed to state, however, that the Arab Governments, which had approved the technical and engineering phases of the Johnston plan, had reneged on political grounds, while Israel was ready to accept the plan.

Dr. Davis mentioned the plan proposed by the late Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold for the economic integration of the entire Middle East, including not only the refugee population but also the rest of the people in the area. He asserted that the Arab governments showed “readiness to cooperate in every manner, ” but he did not indicate clearly that the Arab governments killed the Hammarskjold plan.

Throughout all six papers, Dr. Davis accepted the Arab thesis that “repatriation” and compensation by Israel are “rights” which must be recognized as attitudes held not only by the refugees but by the “Arab people. ” He gave no hint of the fact that the opinions of the refugees are whipped up by governmental propaganda of the Arab states.

Dr. Davis conceded, in discussing UNRWA’s failure to “rectify” the relief rolls adequately, that the very UNRWA investigators who must be employed to do that job are refugees on the UNRWA payrolls. He reported elsewhere that “UNRWA has the largest staff complement of all the United Nations agencies, ” with a total of 11,450 employees, as of December 31, 1961. Of that total, the report revealed, 11,295 are “locally recruited” from the ranks of the refugees themselves.

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