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The importance of the UN Refugee Card

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Everyone has a name, but we, as Palestinians, also have numbers. I was born into a refugee family in the Deheishe camp, and so I received a UN refugee card. This card proves that I am a refugee. It will hopefully be a means to solving the Palestinian refugee issue, and return basic human rights to our people.

The UN began to issue cards in the early 50’s, to some of the 800,000 Palestinians who fled from their homes during the violent establishment of the state of Israel, in 1948. The UNRWA, which is the UN organization formed to assist Palestinian refugees, emulated a similar program initiated by the Red Cross in order to regulate aid dispersements to families. Primarily, it was only the refugees in camps that received these cards.

The cards, and with them the status of UN-registration, gave Palestinian refugees the right to assistance with basic housing, education, medical service and food supplies.

In the beginning, the cards were marked with holes – then a specific family where entitled to their ration of supplies from the UNRWA. In recent times, when the distribution of food supplies has become rare, new cards have been given to the refugees that divided them into a kind of first and second class Palestinian refugees. The “first class” constitutes refugees still living in camps, while the “second class” is made up of refugees that moved out of the camps due to lack of space or other concerns. The latter class do not receive the same access to services as the former, and are losing their rights as refugees.

The UNRWA claims to have fewer and fewer resources available to them, and are progressively cutting their services for Palestinian refugees. Alternatively, the organization has also recently chosen to work for other Palestinians groups, for instance, by establishing mobile medical teams to villages in remote areas. Even though such projects are needed, it calls into question the UNRWAs willingness and ability to help the people it was established to assist.

It has also been made painfully clear over the years that the organization does not have the capacity to raise awareness about the Palestinian refugees’ difficult situation, or to promote a just solution concerning this issue. As long as the refugee issue remains unsolved, we, as Palestinian refugees, still need our UN cards, for as long as they offer us hope.

By Yasser Al-Haj