Doc. 9500

27 June 2002

Situation in the Middle East

Opinion1

Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography

Rapporteur: Mr Tadeusz Iwiński, Poland, Socialist Group

I.       Conclusions of the committee:

Recommendations to the Council of Europe member states:

i. promote the idea of establishing of a Palestine Refugee and Displaced Persons Final Status Fund under the aegis of the United Nations to finance the forthcoming cost of resettlement;

ii. prepare in their budgets for donations to this Fund;

iii. initiate the organisation of an international conference devoted entirely to the question of all the refugees from the region;

iv. support the activities of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine in the Near East (UNRWA) by stepping up voluntary financial contributions to its budget;

v. exercise continuous pressure on the Israeli Government in order to ensure compliance with the international humanitarian law during military operations, and that every case of alleged human rights violation be investigated, and perpetrators be persecuted;

vi. contribute to the international debate on a durable solutions offered to the Palestinian refugees, and encourage as well as commission political and academic research and studies concerning refugee problems and compensations;

Recommendations to the Government of Israel:

i. to ensure the compliance by the army with international humanitarian law during the military operations and accountability for reported abuses;

ii. to investigate every case of alleged human rights violations including those reported at the check-points, examine the complaints of citizens as to crimes reportedly committed by the military and law enforcement bodies and to prosecute the perpetrators;

iii. to allow for free access of international humanitarian organisations to the areas covered by military operations;

iv. to stop considering, and refrain from any forced expulsion of families of suicide bombers from the Israeli territory;

v. not to use refugees for political purpose and show more flexibility on the refugee issue;

Recommendations to the Palestinian authority:

i. Stop using refugees as an instrument in political action and show more flexibility on the refugee issue;

ii. promote a choice of options for a durable solution including compensations between the refugee population;

iii. actively seek international support for the establishment of a Palestine Refugee and Displaced Persons Final Status Fund.

iv. provide more support for refugees, including social and economic support, within its own mandate.

II. Amendments on behalf of the committee

Amendment 1

In the draft resolution, after paragraph 8 insert a new paragraph as follows:

“The Assembly notes with concern the humanitarian situation of Palestinian refugees, in particular those living in refugee camps which is unacceptable both for humanitarian reasons and also because it constitutes a major source of insecurity and tension in the region. A durable solution must be found and both sides should show more flexibility in their approach. The establishment of the Palestine Refugee and Displaced Persons Final Status Fund under the aegis of the United Nations with a view to financing the forthcoming cost of resettlement and compensations would largely contribute to this purpose.”

Amendment 2

In the draft resolution, after paragraph 13.b, insert a new sub-paragraph as follows:

“to ensure the compliance by the army and security forces with international humanitarian law and to investigate cases of alleged human rights violations”

Amendment 3

In the draft resolution, after sub-paragraph 13.b, insert a new sub-paragraph as follows:

“to allow for free access of international humanitarian organisations to the areas covered by military operations;”

Amendment 4

In the draft resolution, after sub-paragraph 14.f, insert a new sub-paragraph as follows:

“to actively seek international support for the establishment of a Palestine Refugee and Displaced Persons Final Status Fund;”

Amendment 5

In the draft resolution, after sub-paragraph 14.f, insert a new sub-paragraph as follows:

“to provide more support for refugees including social and economic support within its own mandate;”

III.       Explanatory memorandum by Mr Iwiński

1. It is often difficult to distinguish between the political and humanitarian aspects in the case of armed conflicts. This is particularly true in this highly politicised conflict in the Middle East. The Rapporteur is fully aware that the question of refugees is placed in the centre of the political debate, but still he is of the opinion that some strictly humanitarian issues should be resolved irrespectively of political considerations. Therefore while fully supporting the resolution presented by the Political Affairs Committee, the Rapporteur wishes to draw the Assembly’s attention to some specific humanitarian questions.

2. The Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography has been following the humanitarian situation in the Middle East for a long time now. The last report was presented by Mr Atkinson on behalf of the Committee in April 1998, and following its debate in the Assembly, Resolution 1156 (1998) on the Palestine refugee situation in the context of the Middle East Peace process was adopted. Most regrettably, the recommendations included in the text for the most part have remained unaccomplished. The Committee has therefore decided to continue its efforts in this field by preparing a new report on the humanitarian situation of refugees and displaced persons in the Middle East (Rapporteur: Mr Akselsen)

3. The Rapporteur particularly deplores the fact that a special fund for which the Resolution called, the Palestine Refugee and Displaced Persons Final Status Fund under the aegis of the United Nations to finance the forthcoming cost of resettlement has never been established.

4. The Rapporteur considers that it is high time to come back to this question as a matter of urgency. This is particularly important now, in the light of the dramatic deterioration of the humanitarian situation in the region.

5. Several United Nations resolutions, in particular Resolution 194 (1948) have provided for all the refugees’ right to return to their homes, or, for those who do not wish to return, right for financial compensation. The Rapporteur recognizes the fact that after 50 years and in view of the increased number of people who fall under the operational definition of Palestinian refugees, it would be politically and practically difficult to organize the return of all those entitled to it.

6. However, your Rapporteur is of the opinion that the present situation of refugees cannot last any longer both for humanitarian reasons, and also because it constitutes a major source of insecurity and tension in the region.

7. Therefore the situation of refugees, and in particular of those who live in refugee camps must be resolved and a durable solution must be found. This certainly requires more flexibility from all those concerned, and in particular from the leaders, and implies change in the attitude towards the refugees who must not be considered as an instrument in a political action.

8. The question of refugees could be somehow linked to the question of settlers, and in both cases parties concerned might grant some concessions which would contribute to a lasting solution.

9. The refugees should be given a fair choice between a number of options including resettlement to permanent accommodation in host countries with full rights and appropriate compensation. To this end, the establishment of the above mentioned special fund seems to be indispensable.

10. Under the operational definition of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), Palestine refugees are persons whose place of residence was Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948, and who lost their homes and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict, as well as their descendants. This means that under this operational definition certain IDPs are also considered as refugees. The number of registered Palestine refugees has grown from 726 000 in 1948 to 3.9 million by June 2001.

11. One-third of the registered Palestine refugees (over 1.2 million) live in 59 recognized refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The other two-thirds of the registered refugees live in the cities, towns and villages of the host countries, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, often in the neighbourhood of the camps.

12. Living conditions in the camps are generally very poor with a high population density, overcrowded houses and high rate of poverty. Most camps have inadequate basic infrastructure, with open sewers, limited supplies of clean water and unsatisfactory drainage systems that make flooding very common.

13. Although UNRWA provides services in the camps it does not exercise administrative or other control over them. Some criticism concerning its lack of reaction and passivity towards terrorist activities held in the camps is fully unjustified: UNRWA has neither mandate nor enforcement power to exercise any kind of control.

14. UNRWA supports refugee families living both in camps and in private accommodation by direct material and financial assistance and helps promote the self-reliance of the refugee community through community social development. However, the unemployment rate among the refugees is very high, and many families have no permanent income at all.

15. Furthermore UNRWA provides basic free education in 634 elementary schools, 5 secondary schools and in 8 vocational training centres.

16. While refugees have varying degrees of access to public sector health services in host countries, UNRWA remains the main provider of basic health care. UNRWA offers primary health care to registered refugees through a network of 122 facilities. Services provided include medical care, diseases prevention and control, mother-and-child health care, family planning and health education. UNRWA also offers help with secondary health care especially emergency and life-saving treatment through contractual agreements with non-governmental and private hospitals or through partial reimbursement of treatment costs. The agency operates a hospital in Qalqilia in the West Bank and six maternity units in the Gaza Strip. Health services in refugee camps include sewage disposal, management of storm water runoff, provision of safe drinking water.

17. UNRWA works in partnership with other UN organisations: UNESCO, WHO, UNICEF.

18. UNRWA’s budget is approved by the UN General Assembly and the Agency’s operations are financed almost entirely by voluntary contributions from governments and the EU.

19. The Rapporteur considers that the services of the UNRWA must be fully maintained until a permanent solution is achieved, and that the cost of possible future resettlement must be additional to existing funding of UNRWA in order to ensure a smooth transfer of its services to the governments concerned.

20. The ongoing hostilities since the beginning of the second Intifada have dramatically affected the overall humanitarian situation. 1414 Palestinians and 547 Israelis have lost their lives. The number of injured is much higher. The report of the Political Affairs Committee gives account of the human rights violations which take place on an everyday basis.

21. The Rapporteur is highly concerned by the reports from the international aid agencies concerning the situation of the civilian population confined to their homes without food, water and electricity, without access to medical and humanitarian assistance. These reports coming from most respected organisations like UN relief agency for Palestinian refugees, UNICEF, Amnesty International, International Committee of Red Cross, Save the Children and others cannot be ignored.

22. The impunity of perpetrators contributes largely to a climate of insecurity. The investigations into the alleged human rights abuses are extremely rare.

23. The recent statements by the Israeli Government’s representative concerning possible expulsions of suicide bombers’ families from the Israeli territory are unacceptable. Such action would be contradictory to the 4th Geneva Convention on the protection of civilians in times of war to which Israel is a signatory.

24. The Rapporteur is convinced that the only way to achieving a durable peace and a political solution must go through the negotiation process. Therefore the Rapporteur supports without reservation the call for the resumption of the political peace process.

*

* *

Reporting Committee: Political Affairs Committee

Committee for opinion: Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography

Reference to Committee: Reference No. 2748 of 24 June 2002 (Request for an urgent procedure debate)

Opinion approved by the Committee on 27 June 2002

Secretariat to the Committee: Mr Lervik, Mrs Nachilo and Mrs Sirtori


1 See Doc. 9499.