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Warnings Made Against Paralyzing UNRWA

Warnings Made Against Paralyzing UNRWA

Saturday, 25 June, 2022 - 07:45
UNRWA aid delivery in Khan Yunis, Gaza, on June 14, 2022. (AFP)

The Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), Philippe Lazzarini, has warned against the “chronic underfunding” that threatens the agency with “paralysis.”

He stressed that every year, the Agency is forced to operate with a funding gap of around $100 million.

“UNRWA cannot be compared to any other UN humanitarian agency,” he said, pointing out that it relies almost entirely on voluntary contributions, essentially from member states.

“Today, we have depleted our financial reserves and reached the limits of cost control and austerity measures. Austerity now affects the quality of the services.”

To illustrate austerity, Lazzarini called on participants to think of 50 children in one classroom, double shifts within schools, or a medical visit where a doctor spends less than three minutes with a patient.

“Our 28,000 staff, most of whom are Palestine refugee teachers, nurses, doctors, engineers, or sanitation laborer, are exhausted as we continue to ask them for the impossible: to do more each year with less means and less staff.”

He said that fear of being abandoned by the international community permeates all his conversations with Palestine refugees.

“For them, UNRWA remains the last standing pillar of the commitment of the international community to their right to a dignified life and their right to a just and lasting solution,” he stressed.

Lazzarini further warned that despair and hopelessness are growing in the refugee camps.

Political, economic and security conditions across the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, are deteriorating as Palestine refugees experience high levels of dispossession, violence and insecurity.

He affirmed that Gaza is still struggling to recover from the impact of last year’s conflict.

“Despite our progress in rehabilitating and rebuilding damaged homes, another issue will take much longer to rebuild: the psycho-social well-being of Palestinians in Gaza, particularly children.”

A 12-year-old child in an UNRWA school has lived through four armed conflicts and lived all her or his life under an economic and social blockade.

At a time of so many global crises, from Ukraine to Afghanistan and to the Horn of Africa, Lazzarini urged that relevant parties work together to avert a new crisis unfolding in a part of the world that has already witnessed enough pain and misery.

His remarks were made during the pledging conference the UN General Assembly hosted on UNRWA in New York, seeking $1.6 billion in 2022 to support the agency’s lifesaving work.

UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres told the same conference on Thursday that investing in UNRWA is also “investing in stability” for the entire Middle East region.

“It means investing in the future through education of children and youth, girls and boys, young women and men.”

Guterres called on participants to imagine they are not distinguished representatives of member states in the United Nations and that they are a young man or woman Palestinian refugee living in Lebanon, or in Syria, or in Jordan or in Gaza.

“The perspective of a political solution for your country is more far away than ever. There is no peace process taking place. The most relevant global actors, the Middle East Quartet, is not able to meet, not even able to meet at ministerial levels.”

The Middle East Quartet includes the United States, Russia, the European Union, and the UN.

He affirmed that several countries, even in the region, seem to accept the status quo, while settlements move on, and evictions take place, with no hope for a political solution.

At the same time, he pointed out that with the war in Ukraine, and other important events in the world, the Palestinian cause is far from the headlines of the international media, and far from the center of political debates in international fora.

He stressed that this vital Agency suffers from chronic underfunding, noting that in the last 10 years, the needs of Palestine refugees have increased, while funds have stagnated.

He addressed donors and asked for their solidarity and support.

He appealed to them to make pledges that will bridge the gap between the mandate of UNRWA and the budget needed to ensure vital services to Palestine refugees until the end of this year - to bring UNRWA’s current shortfall down to zero.

Guterres further called for putting the Agency on a durable financial footing. “That requires a long-term plan to stabilize the financing of UNRWA and together, reach sufficient, predictable and sustainable funding.”

He stressed that millions of Palestine refugees are counting on the UN to relieve their suffering and to help them build a better future.

He also reiterated the importance of pursuing peace efforts to realize the vision of two States, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security, with Jerusalem as the capital of both States.

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