Irish Delegation visits UNRWA installations in Shu'fat Palestine refugee camp on 15 March 2021. Jerusalem © 2021 UNRWA photo.
On the occasion of the signing of a new Memorandum of Understanding (the MoU) between Ireland and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), Don Sexton, Representative of Ireland in Palestine, met with Leni Stenseth, Deputy Commissioner-General of UNRWA, and visited the Shu'fat Palestine refugee camp accompanied by Gwyn Lewis, Director of UNRWA Affairs in the West Bank.
Acknowledging UNRWA as a key partner for Ireland’s policy on international development and a strong sign of the country's commitment to supporting Palestine refugees, the new partnership framework foresees reliable and stable financial support by Ireland for UNRWA core and emergency services over a period of three-years (2021-2023), starting in March 2021 with a EUR 5 million contribution to the Agency's human development programmes and a EUR 1 million allocation to the UNRWA response to the Syria regional crisis.
The MoU also highlights Ireland's commitment to engage bilaterally and multilaterally with the Agency on a range of strategic issues, including on developing its new medium-term strategy and efforts to put the Agency on a more stable financial footing.
During the field visit, Representative Sexton said: “Ireland is a longstanding supporter of the critical work undertaken by UNRWA with and on behalf of Palestine refugees. We are very pleased to be able to sign a multi-year framework which will provide predictable funding to help the Agency deliver its vital services”.
Stenseth added: "The signing of this new multi-year partnership agreement is yet another sign of Ireland's important political and financial commitment to supporting Palestine refugees. As we call on the international community to join efforts to collectively develop a forward-looking and sustainable vision for UNRWA, Ireland sets a great example, standing firmly with Palestine refugees and the Agency."
The visit to Shu'fat camp was an opportunity for the Delegation to review the socio-economic situation of Palestine refugees in the West Bank - aggravated by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic - as well as their particular protection challenges. It was also a chance to see first-hand the impact of Ireland’s long-standing efforts to promote their well-being, rights and dignity through the delivery of UNRWA services, in particular quality basic education, primary health care, and social services.
Gwyn Lewis said: “We are very grateful for the strong and sustained partnership with Ireland, especially at a time when Palestine refugees across the region continue to face severe humanitarian and protection challenges, a political solution to their plight appears elusive, and the impact of COVID-19 dramatically reverses development opportunities for this vulnerable community."
Ireland is one of the most reliable political and financial partners of UNRWA. A donor since 1959 and member of the Agency's Advisory Commission since 2008, Ireland contributed EUR 42,000,000 (US$ 47,481,794) to UNRWA between 2015 and 2020.
UNRWA is confronted with an increased demand for services resulting from a growth in the number of registered Palestine refugees, the extent of their vulnerability and their deepening poverty. UNRWA is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions and financial support has been outpaced by the growth in needs. As a result, the UNRWA programme budget, which supports the delivery of core essential services, operates with a large shortfall.