UNRWA's definition of registered Palestine refugees

The formal status-variance of 1948- and 1967-refugees which UNRWA uses differentiates between registered refugees who meet the Agency's definition of Palestine refugees such as the 1948-refugees, and the "displaced persons" of 1967 who are recognised as refugees but are regarded as "unregistered" since they do not meet the working definition rendered on page 24.

The legal importance which the UNRWA-status has achieved for unregistered Palestinian refugees, notably in Lebanon, has been mentioned earlier. Equally important as the legal status which an UNRWA-registration secures, is the economic significance of the UNRWA-status for the well-being of Palestinians. Being or not being a "card-holder", that is possessing an UNRWA registration card, has financial and social repercussions for the living condition of refugees in camps.
A "card-holder" is entitled to a range of social and financial services which non-card-holders do not have access to, although both groups may reside in the refugee camp. Unregistered refugees are not entitled to education, nor can they enlist on the vocational-training courses, and they do not have access to UNRWA's social programmes. These structural disadvantages compel some refugees to achieve certain services, such as primary education at UNRWA-schools, in different ways, mainly by using wasta; either paying bribes or contacting persons who can enrol the descendants of "unregistered" refugees as if they were "registered" in return for other types of material or non-material favours.

In other circumstances, UNRWA card-holders seek to maintain an achieved status, such as being classified as a "Special Hardship Case" (SHC) because this status alleviates some of their financial needs. An SHC client is entitled to bi-monthly food-rations which consist of basic foodstuffs (among these are 10 kilos of wheat per person, sugar, cans of corn beef and sardines, oil, and burgul). Approximately 10% of camp residents in the camp of Rashidiyya are SHC-cases consisting of individuals and households in special need: widows with children under the age of 18, head of family over the age of 60 years; families headed by orphans under 18 years of age; head of household who is disabled or mentally handicapped; families where heads of household has been detained for a period exceeding three months; head of family or sole male adult (over 18 years of age) who is following a full-time course of study at a recognised educational establishment (UNRWA, Relief Services Instruction No. 1/94 (Provisional), Special Hardship Assistance, January 1994:2).

Sana, who resides in the camp of Rashidiyya, is classified as an SHC by UNRWA, entitling her to receive basic foodstuffs every second month because she is a widow taking care of children under the age of 18. She achieved at keeping her SHC-status, although she has two sons over the age of 18 living in the household, by arranging the engagement of her eldest son Rami to her niece, and by issuing a forged certificate which cost 250,000 Lira (150 USD) declaring that her son Hasan, aged 18, was enrolled at a vocational school (which he was not), and thus unable to support the family. Sana thus fulfils UNRWA's conditions that children over the age of 18 who are either establishing their own households (Rami) or studying (Hasan) would not be regarded as bread-winners. Sana thus retains her SHC-status. She admits she has a problem keeping the SHC-status next year because her son Munir will then turn 18, but thinks that it is possible to issue another forged statement that Munir is studying.

In short, Sana sought to retain her SHC status because the foodstuffs constitute an important reserve of resources as foodstuffs. These foodstuffs are sometimes exchanged with other necessary items she might need. During the building of her new two-room dwelling she sold part of the foodstuffs and bought stones. Had Sana not arranged Rami's engagement and Hasan's forged certificate she would have decreased the assets available to her. She was therefore willing to invest the certificate fee, knowing that the rations would soon repay her financial investment.

The vital importance of having the "right" papers is illustrated by the following arrangement resulting after the intermarriage between a woman whose legal status is an UNRWA-registered 1948-refugee and a 1967-refugee whose legal papers are unsettled. According to UNRWA's patrilineal criterias of registry, a woman and her descendants loose the right to register as 1948-refugees if she marries a non-1948-refugee. In order to keep her 1948-status, one woman in Rashidiyya declined from informing UNRWA that she had changed her personal status. When she bore children, she regressed all four on the ID-card of her brother, a step which guaranteed her children a 1948-refugee status. The children would otherwise have "inherited" their father's unsettled legal status and grown up without official ID-cards.

Such measures illustrate how some Palestinians seek to decrease the legal vulnerability they are subject to following rules which are externally defined and implemented. The case also illustrates how close kinship relations between siblings are used to counterbalance the legal and economic disadvantages which was foreseen as an outcome following the intermarriage between two disparate legal personal statuses. The 1967-legally ostracised husband apparently views that his children's future opportunities are best guarded with a settled legal status as 1948-refugees. He is willing to guarantee his children's future opportunities at the cost of not being officially recognised as the father of his children. In a patrilinear society where children follow the father's kin, this step shows the pivotal importance of having what the father perceives as the "right papers", namely those which increase the economic and legal opportunities available for his offspring and not those that prove his own fatherhood, thereby diminishing the legal obstacles occurring as a result of mix-marriages.

Besides the economic importance of the UNRWA-card for many refugees, the UNRWA-registration is perceived as a clear formal identification of their right as refugees who were once thrown out of their land. A respondent in the camp of Askar on the West Bank could recall that his family was offered to sell his UNRWA-card, but that he had refused because the card was proof that they were refugees and that they had the right to return. People's attitudes seem to be torn between the aversion to move out of the camp and the desire to stay together with relatives and neighbours on a space of land with UN protection.

In the camp of Rashidiyya, Abu Raif complained about the decrease of UNRWA-services since the beginning of 1990.19 He comments on the change of UNRWA's title printed on the new SHC-registration-cards which were issued in 1993: "UNRWA's name has been removed. Our registration cards do not bear the title of United Nation's Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), they are currently issued by The International Relief Agency (wikalat al-ghawth al-dawliyya). There is a tremendous change of responsibility here: reference to us as "Palestine Refugees" is not included on the new cards. We are only persons in need of rations just like other destitute people like those in Rwanda". Some refugees are thus wondering whether UNRWA's decreased services is a process which will eventually deprive them of their special status as Palestinian refugees, and not as regular displaced persons like other refugees.

In sum, the UNRWA-status is a legal and economic asset which provides membership and access to a welfare system that refugees enjoy, and in some cases try to maximise. For some refugees, such as unregistered, and therefore non-card holders, non-membership in UNRWA is a formal disadvantage since they are formally excluded from a range of sought-after goods and services in the camp, such as health services and education. Other refugees who are entitled to UNRWA-services may live outside camps, such as Palestinians living in Amman who are in a social-class position where they are not in need of UNRWA's economic and social services and therefore do not seek them.

In Lebanon, the possession of an UNRWA-card has an additional legal status due to the government's terms of conditionally requiring refugees of possessing UNRWA-cards for the issuing of residence permits and ID-cards. This situation jeopardizes the personal security situation of unregistered refugees and adds a legal significance to UNRWA's registration system, which the system did not have at the time of registration.
19.) Among these services are the "kitchen" which used to serve hot meals daily for children, SHC's and other needy; school materials and effects without pay, and free-of-charge referral slips to seek medical specialists and undergo hospital-operations without pay; distribution of clothes and blankets in wintertime; scholarships for higher education.

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