UNRWA Commissioner-General, Philippe Lazzarini. (UNRWA photo)
Head of the UN Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) has warned that Palestine refugees continue to face a growing sense of despair and dejection as a result of the volatile situation in the region and financial instability.
In a statement delivered last week as part of the 154th Session of the League of Arab States Council at the Ministerial Level, of UNRWA Commissioner-General, Philippe Lazzarini, sounded the alarm over the situation of Palestine refugees and the challenges that UNRWA faces, saying Palestine refugees should continue to be protected and supported as long as their status remains unchanged.
“Crises in the region remain unresolved and new ones always seem to be unfolding”, he said. “In Lebanon, the devastating explosion in Beirut port has shattered the human security of thousands, including around 200,000 Palestine refugees. Lebanon faces immense financial, economic and political challenges.”
He added that in Syria, nine years of conflict and a freefalling economy pose enormous humanitarian challenges and many Palestine refugee families are said to be cutting on food.
Lazzarini referred to Israeli demolitions, incursions, detentions and violence in the occupied West Bank along with the dire conditions in Gaza.
“Whilst the challenges hitting Palestine refugees and UNRWA are multiple, my immediate priority on my appointment as Commissioner-General was to protect the Palestine refugee community from COVID-19”, he said.
“Since July, however, we are racing against the clock, as the number of COVID-19 cases amongst Palestine refugees jumped from less than 200 to over 4,300 last Thursday”, he warned. “And now, COVID-19 is fueling a pandemic of abject poverty”.
“Despair and hopelessness are growing among Palestine refugees and they turn to UNRWA for more assistance”, stated Lazzarini. “Despair is a dangerous feeling in a highly volatile region”.
The UN official said that in such an unpredictable and unstable environment, “we need, more than ever, a predictable and stable UNRWA. Our greatest challenge is our financial stability. We are operating at full capacity with inadequate resources”.
“Year after year, month after month, UNRWA is on the edge of a financial collapse. This is not a sustainable model. Despite the severity of the financial situation, I do not wish to add to the anxiety and insecurity that refugees feel every day by making alarmist public statements”.
“As of today, I do not know whether we will have adequate resources to run UNRWA operations until the end of the year. Nevertheless, I have taken the decision to make Palestine refugee children going back to learning a priority. I am delighted to announce that last week more than half a million girls and boys started to go back to learning in UNRWA schools. Education is central to all of our efforts to give them hope for a better future”, he stated.
Lazzarini also said: “But sustaining education requires a different funding model. Our budgets are prepared ahead of time, they are predictable. Over the last 5 years - with the exception of 2018 - UNRWA’s Programme Budget - the backbone of the Agency - has not been adequately resourced to deliver with the quality that meets the commitments of UNRWA’s mandate. Funding has constantly been unpredictable, with no visibility beyond few weeks”.
The UNRWA chief reiterated his appeals to UN Member States to match their political support for the UNRWA mandate with adequate resources. He appealed to Members of the Arab League to do the same.
“In the immediate term, between now and the end of the year, UNRWA urgently needs 200 million US dollars for its Programme Budget, US$ 95 million to respond to COVID-19, and US$ 43 million for Syria and the occupied Palestinian territory, primarily to sustain food and cash assistance to one million poor refugees in Gaza and over 400,000 in Syria and Lebanon”, the UNRWA Commissioner-General said.
Lazzarini closed by warning that failing to receive the necessary funds will affect vital services to millions of Palestine refugees.