The world's largest group of homeless people

DAN-CHYI CHUA
Jun 21, 2011
*Special to asia!

Of a Hollywood star, summer camp and a country that remains far out of reach.

This week marks World Refugee Day. The United Nations Refugee Agency duly informed its followers on their Facebook news feed with this:

1010 Screen grab from UNHCR's Facebook page.

Remember when Hello! magazine had the exclusive rights to the first pictures of the Hollywood actress's pair of new born twins?

1011 Billed "The biggest exclusive of the year" by Hello! magazine in 2008

Is the UN body is going the way of the tabloid press with its “exclusive-for-Facebook-photo” of her visit to the refugees that fled the unrest in Tunisia and Libya? Or has it decided the interest of the general public cannot be aroused without a little help from some form of celebrity endorsement?

They could be right, ours is a celebrity-crazed culture. But what does all this have to do with this topic of this blog?

According to latest UN figures, out of the 15.4 million refugees in the world today, 4.8 million are Palestinians. That's about one in three.

...out of the 15.4 million refugees in the world today, 4.8 million are Palestinians. That's about one in three.

A breakdown by the UNRWA, the UN body specifically working with the Palestinian refugees, shows more than three million are in Jordan, Syria or Lebanon.

One in three Palestinian refugees live in official UN camps in these three countries as well as in the Israeli- occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

(The UNRWA defines Palestinian refugees as people “whose normal place of residence was Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948, who lost both their homes and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict.”)

***

After a visit last week to the Palestinian refugee camps in Beirut, UNRWA Commissioner-General Filippo Grandi said:

“We should learn lessons from 15 May. [Palestinians] are not going to stay quiet. They have rights that they want to talk about so we need to help them, otherwise they will not become a positive constituency, working toward peace, [but] they will become an element of instability.”

“This shows how important it is not to forget the refugees. This is a political issue; clearly the responsibility of the parties to the conflict. It’s important that the issue is not delayed, because these demonstrations … are the proof that it is not resolved."

On May 15, Israeli forces shot dead 11 Palestinians attempting to storm its border with southern Lebanon. Hundreds were left wounded.

The right to return for these refugees remains one of the issues to be resolved between Israel and the Palestinians, between whom talks have broken down.

The Palestinians are attempting to bring their quest of establishing an independent state to the United Nations this September.

Obama has declared that the move will fail and any resolution must come through negotiations with Israel. France proposed to host talks for the two sides. That too was slammed by the US. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton had said it would not be “productive”. (More on that story here.)

In a report today in the Jerusalem Post, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat says the US has not approached the Palestinians any offer to resume talks.

1013 Palestinian refugees at the Iraqi-Syrian border (Photo: Al Tanf/UNHCR)

***

It is summer vacation time in Gaza, and the UNRWA and Hamas are organising separate camps for the children.

Slogans and banners have been put up to attract the children to the respective affairs.

...These are children who will grow up knowing just life in the camps and the conflict with the Israelis that put them there.

The six weeks of UNRWA activities began with a torch relay for the Summer Games, held for the fifth year running, which is the same number of years Israel has imposed a blockade on Gaza.

According to the UN body, the camp gives the children of Gaza, a chance at “self-expression”, offering them “a chance to be kids, to have fun, learn new things and meet new friends."

The Hamas camps on the other hand will combine religious education with sports like swimming and football.

A Xinhua report quoted Hamas leaders as saying that the aim of organizing the summer camps every year is to train the pupils and students with the Islamic culture and the rules, values and principles of Islam.

One of the camp organiser, a Hamas leader Musa Samak:

“Organizing our summer camps is based on the role that Gaza youths had played in the revolutions of change in the Arab World, and also focuses on their pioneer role in constructing a conservative and committed Palestinian society.”

According to official Palestinian statistics,  two out of every five refugees in the West Bank and Gaza are under the age of 15. These are children who will grow up knowing just life in the camps and the conflict with the Israelis that put them there.

The UNRWA says employment in Gaza reached 45.2 percent in the second half of last year. It also added that Hamas which governs the territory has managed to increase public sector job creation by 20 percent since 2007.

***

Across the Atlantic, a boat named the “Audacity of Hope” sets sail to join an international flotilla with the goal of breaking the Israeli naval blockade on the Gaza Strip.

The passengers sent a letter to President Barack Obama to inform him that the boat will be carrying “50 unarmed Americans”. This should create an interesting situation for Obama should circumstances similar to last May occur.

Commandos from the Israeli Army stormed the Mavi Mamara, a Turkish ship that tried to break the blockade and nine people were killed.

You can follow the progress of the boat on Twitter.

dan-chyi chua

Dan-Chyi Chua was a broadcast journalist, before forsaking Goggle Box Glitz for the Open Road. A three-year foray led her through the Middle East, China, SE Asia, Latin America and Cuba, and she's now grounded herself as a writer for theasiamag.com, content with spending her days in Jerusalem.

Contact Dan-Chyi