How Does a Temporary Organization Manage to Outlive its Mandate? A Case Study on UNRWA's Legitimacy in Lebanon

Jannik Hansen

Studenteropgave: Kandidatafhandlinger


Background: ​Decades before the outbreak of the Syrian Refugee Crisis, the Middle East saw almost a million Palestinians displaced, both internally and to neighboring countries, in 1948. To cater to their needs until their return, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) was established in 1950. Sixty-six years later, UNRWA is still in operation, despite the increasing number of refugees due to decades of conflict most recently in Syria and a mandate that does not secure its financial stability. It has come to assume a pseudo-governmental role to its beneficiaries, who have demonstrated against its ever-shrinking services in Lebanon in 2016. Objective: ​This thesis aims to shed a light on the case of UNRWA in Lebanon, the only country in the region that does not extend any benefits to the refugees it hosts. To this end and in this challenging context, the research asks how UNRWA’s legitimacy is constructed and maintained in Lebanon following the onset of the Syrian Refugee Crisis.
Methods: ​Beetham’s Theory of Legitimacy is deemed most suitable to answer the research question. The socio-scientific concept, through the three dimensions (Legality, Normative Justifiability, and Performative Endorsement), is operationalized using primary sources, e.g official UNRWA reports and documents, press releases, and articles from media, triangulating them using four elite interviews conducted in two UNRWA-supported camps in Beirut for the aim of the case study.
Results: ​First​, ​this paper finds that UNRWA’s mandate leads to its inevitable financial instability, and that its existence acts to deter the Lebanese State from taking on the responsibility of the refugee population and to deal with the political factions in the camps. Second, the paper finds that UNRWA plays a fundamental role in Lebanon for the Palestinian refugees, in terms of relief and employment, but much more crucially in safeguarding their right of return, which they consider sacred. Third, the paper finds that the Lebanese State, Palestinian Refugees, the donors, and the media act to endorse and thus legitimize the organization. Conclusion: ​Using all three dimensions of the Beethamite framework, UNRWA in Lebanon is linked to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict narrative, its existence owing to both the refugee’s well-being and right of return. Its critical position has enforced on it a duality of a sort, acting as both a humanitarian agency and a de facto long-term governor for the affairs of refugees.

UddannelserCand.merc.pol International Business and Politics, (Kandidatuddannelse) Afsluttende afhandling
Antal sider123
VejledereMorten Ougaard