Lazzarini: US-UNRWA Framework Does Not Affect UNRWA Mandate, Definition of Palestinian Refugees

Lazzarini: US-UNRWA Framework Does Not Affect UNRWA Mandate, Definition of Palestinian Refugees

Palestinians collect food aid at a distribution centre run by Unrwa for Palestinian refugees in Gaza City on 26 July 2021 (AFP)

Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), Philippe Lazzarini, said no bilateral agreement shall delegitimize the Agency’s mission or redefine the status of Palestinian refugees.

In a letter to UNRWA staff, Lazzarini said the 2021-2022 US-UNRWA Framework for Cooperation, signed in June, does not affect the Agency’s legitimate mission, which was mandated by the UN General Assembly (UNGA); Nor does it contradict the UN decades-long humanitarian principles.

Lazzarini told UNRWA staff that the Agency’s verification of the names of all cash recipients and beneficiaries, including employees and external contractors, against the United Nations Consolidated Sanctions List, is conducted twice a year and in line with the long-standing UN procedures.

UNRWA chief added that the Agency’s staff should respect internal regulations and the principle of neutrality including on social media. In any instance of incitement to violence or politicized position, the Agency takes strict punitive and legal measures.

He added that UNRWA updates host countries on its staff list based on the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations. The political environment during recent years and the increasing attacks on the Agency’s mandate have been a source of grave concern for Palestinian refugees. Those who seek to undermine UNRWA’s legitimacy will take advantage of potential violations of the principle of neutrality in order to pressure governments to defund the agency.

Last month, PRC issued a new report unraveling the historical and legal discrepancies of the “2021-2022 Framework for Cooperation with the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA)” signed by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration on July 14.

Entitled “US-UNRWA Framework for Cooperation on Palestinian Refugees: Another Prelude to Dismantle the Agency”, PRC’s report provides a close reading of the Framework and shows how it unravels its biased and dangerous implications on the Palestinian refugee cause.

The framework signals a reawakening of the US pro-Israel policy which seeks to liquidate the Palestinian refugee cause, deny Palestinians’ refugee status, and relocate them outside their homeland.

The report indicates that the document includes signs of prejudice and partiality that strike at the foundations of the Palestinian refugee status. It stipulates that Palestinian refugees who had received military training be excluded from UN assistance under the pretext of fighting terrorism.

The real danger of the document is that it seeks to normalize a de-historicized definition of the Palestinian refugee status that might be adopted by other international organizations seeking to gradually undermine the historical and moral idiosyncrasies of the definition.

PRC also warned that the US-drafted framework seeks to depoliticize the Palestinian refugee cause as no single reference is made to the right of return or the historical context of the issue. The document rather lays utmost emphasis on the US conditions to resume funding to the UNRWA, which gives the impression of guardianship or tutelage at a time when UNRWA struggles to keep its programmes running and delivering much needed assistance to vulnerable and marginalized Palestinian refugee communities.

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