The Embarrassment of UNRWA, By Its Own Numbers

UNRWA, the controversial UN agency which is solely devoted to the descendants of Palestinian refugees and other local people, held a two day fundraising appeal which began on November 16, 2021. Led by the governments of Jordan and Sweden, they appealed to countries around the world to donate to a temporary agency which was established in 1949.

An examination of UNRWA’s statistics as of December 31, 2020 would make the donors run.

UNRWA Clientele

According to UNRWA, it serviced 5.7 million refugees and 685,000 other people (mainly poor people and those married to descendants of refugees) in the five fields of operation. That means that 10.7% of the UNRWA’s wards are not refugees, even under the exaggerated definition that UNRWA uses. In the West Bank, the numbers are even more stark, where 19.5% of the UNRWA base are “others.” Many of these extra clients are poor Arabs in Jerusalem, as noted in the fine print of the UNRWA report.

UNRWA added services to thousands of poor Arabs in the eastern portion of Jerusalem, resulting in an inflated 19.5% of UNRWA wards in the West Bank being “others” compared to just 10.2% in Gaza.

As evidence of distortion in the West Bank, there are very few students relative to the population, especially compared to Gaza. While the percent of the population below 14 years old is high in both locales at 35.3% and 42.5% in the West Bank and Gaza, respectively, (and 17.4% and 18.0% for 15-24 year olds) only 4.2% of UNRWA’s West Bank wards are in UNRWA schools, while the figure is 17.4% in Gaza – four times the rate! That’s because children in the West Bank have many more options and prefer to stay away from UNRWA’s schools.

UNRWA services 287,000 students in Gaza but only 46,000 in the West Bank. The youth in the West Bank prefer using non-UNRWA schools because they have a choice while there are few options in Gaza.

Despite UNRWA’s schools being unpopular in the West Bank, the agency continues to hire. The pupil-to-student ratio was 20, in sharp contrast to 30 students per teacher in Gaza.

The US Ambassador to the UN may be in on the joke as she tweeted during her visit to a UN school on November 17: “Today, I met with educators and students at Jalazone @UNRWA Girls School in Ramallah. I was inspired by their stories and dreams for the future, and I spoke to UNRWA officials about how to make their work stronger, more efficient, and more accountable.

Moves of UNRWA to Jerusalem and Wards to Statelessness

For the period of January 1, 2012, UNRWA began to break out the “other” category for the first time. It was also the last year that it published the annual report from Gaza. Starting the following year – a year which saw the US Democratic Party yell at its national convention that it no longer considered Jerusalem as the capital of Israel – it began to publish its report in Jerusalem, as noted at the bottom of the reports.

Over the nine years since this breakout started, the refugees in the West Bank grew from 727,471 to 871,537, a growth of 20%, while the other wards grew from 147,156 to 211,116, a 43% jump – over twice the rate. The situation was even more dramatic in Jordan, where the UNRWA refugee population grew 17% while the other category grew by a whopping 130%. It’s not hard to speculate that people married in to get free services from UNRWA, and the fat agency could funnel cash and services to actual refugees from the Syrian civil war who flooded into Jordan.

The majority of UNRWA’s clientele actually had Jordanian citizenship from the time the agency was founded until 1988. Jordan illegally annexed what is now commonly called the “West Bank” in 1950 and gave all the Arabs there citizenship. Many Arabs moved back-and-forth between Jordan and the West Bank (both part of the original Palestine Mandate) until 1967 when it became harder to do so after Jordan (and West Bankers) attacked Israel and lost the region. Jordan continued to give those Arabs Jordanian citizenship until it withdrew it abruptly in July 1988, making these Arabs stateless.

A total of 55.5% of UNRWA wards would still be Jordanians had the king not removed their citizenship.

Staffing

In 2000, UNRWA had a staff of 22,447 to address a population of 3,806,055, or a staff member for every 170 registered persons. At the end of 2020, the staff was down from immediate prior years due to the Trump administration cutbacks, but up overall to 28,563 staffers for 6,388,887 people, or one staffer per 224 people. By way of comparison, in 2020 the UNHCR global refugee agency had to deal with 76.7 million people fleeing wars far from their homes requiring brand new housing and schools, was staffed by only 17,300 people, or a staffer for every 4,433 real refugees.

UNRWA has operated in the exact same geography with the same people speaking the same language for decades but still has a staff that is 20x the size proportionately of UHCR which has to handle real refugees fleeing across the world requiring everything new.

Summary

UNRWA is grossly over-staffed, especially relative to the global refugee agency that really does need the resources. It inflated its mandate by adding nearly 11% new people to its roster and moved its center to the contested city of Jerusalem and began servicing eastern Jerusalem’s poor Arabs, making the agency yet more politicized. Further, in terms of competence, UNRWA has shown that it is unable to attract students to its schools.

One needn’t look to news stories and editorials about UNRWA’s supporting anti-Semitism, harboring and employing terrorists, redefining “refugees,” extending its mandate and hearing how Arabs are deregistering from UNRWA to realize how disastrous it is. The agency’s own numbers make clear that it is inept and past time to be shut down.

Related articles:

A Tale of Three Palestinian Refugees, With and Without UNRWA

Shut UNRWA in Gaza Immediately

3 thoughts on “The Embarrassment of UNRWA, By Its Own Numbers

  1. Pingback: The Embarrassment of UNRWA, By Its Own Numbers — FirstOneThrough | Mèir Weiss/z 's Blog

  2. Pingback: Die Peinlichkeit UNRWA, in ihren eigenen Zahlen | abseits vom mainstream - heplev

  3. Pingback: “Politics Aside,” It’s All Politics for UNRWA | FirstOneThrough

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