UNRWA Chief: Palestine Refugees Struggling with Devastating Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic

UNRWA Chief: Palestine Refugees Struggling with Devastating Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic

UNRWA services are a lifeline for many deprived Palestine refugees. (File photo/UNRWA)

The situation of Palestinian refugees in the region has gone downhill due to the coronavirus pandemic and the simmering tensions, warned the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

Addressing the European Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee last week, the UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini said: “Since I last briefed this committee in November 2020, the situation in the region has continued to deteriorate. UNRWA operates in 5 fields. 4 of them are in crisis, in addition to the devastating impact of the ongoing pandemic”.

“In this context, a growing number of Palestine refugees almost exclusively rely on UNRWA basic services, such as healthcare and education at a time the Agency is confronted with unprecedented financial difficulties”, said Lazzarini.

He further warned that in Gaza, poverty and trauma are rampant from 4 conflict, including last May, and 14 years of blockade. UNRWA provides food assistance to about 70% of the population in Gaza as unemployment is skyrocketing. And the security situation remains volatile with fears that a new conflict can erupt in the absence of a genuine political trajectory.

The UNRWA chief added that the situation in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem is tense and volatile. Hundreds of people continue to live with the daily threat of evictions and demolitions.

“Widespread violence, excessive use of force by Israeli Security Forces and weak accountability have injured or killed more Palestinians so far in 2021 than in any of the last 4 years. Settler violence is also rising in a climate of impunity”, said Lazzarini.

He further told the Committee that “Lebanon is on the brink of total collapse. Half the population lives below the poverty line today. Almost all Palestine refugees in the country, around 210,000 are unable to cover their basic needs. Employment opportunities for Palestine refugees, including as daily paid workers, are almost inexistent. Anger and anxiety are boiling in Palestine refugee camps, and there are now frequent sit-ins and demonstration in front of UNRWA premises in Lebanon to ask for more support”.

Commenting on the situation in Syria, UNRWA’s Commissioner-General said: “While the active hostilities have subsided in Syria, the situation remains tense in the northwest and has recently deteriorated in Dera’a governorate in the south, close to a camp for Palestine refugees where the entire community has been displaced. Palestine refugees are amongst the most vulnerable population in Syria with many living on just one meal a day”.

Lazzarini said that in this highly unstable environment, where poverty and despair are high, Palestine refugees community long for a sense of normality, safety and stability. UNRWA services are a lifeline for many deprived Palestine refugees.

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