Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), Philippe Lazzarini (UNRWA photo)
Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), Philippe Lazzarini, has expressed his pain by the level of distress and anxiety among the Palestinian refugee communities and reaffirmed the inalienable nature of the refugees’ right to return to their homeland.
“Wherever I go, I am pained by the level of distress and anxiety among the refugee communities. In Gaza, the psycho-social distress I witnessed in the weeks and months after the latest round of conflict, particularly among children, is devastating”, the letter read. “In the West Bank, I sat with the Sheikh Jarrah families in East Jerusalem who live with the daily threat of forced displacement. I met with refugees in Jenin camp and saw the impact of the heightened violence in the West Bank on their lives. I met with refugees from Yarmouk and the Homs Palestine refugee camp in Syria who shared their frustration at the slow pace of their return to their homes. In Lebanon, I met young graduates in Burj Baranjeh camp whose only hope for a better future was to emigrate through dangerous migration routes. In Jordan, refugees told me about the immense financial hardships they have faced under COVID-19.”
“I am painfully aware that news about the UNRWA dire financial situation adds another layer of distress to your lives. When everything around you falls apart, being able to send your children to school, receive health care and be part of a social safety net are a lifeline”, wrote Lazzarini.
The UNRWA chief said the Agency received more funding under its emergency appeals this year and provided 1.5 million Palestine refugees with food or cash assistance to cope with the impact of the occupation in the occupied Palestinian territory, the blockade in Gaza, the Syria crisis, the socio-economic fallout in Lebanon and the socio-economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic across the region, including Jordan. Over 1,200 families in Gaza who lost their homes during the May conflict received transitional shelter cash assistance. About 750 families in the West Bank who have been evicted from their homes or suffered settler violence received support.
“The financial crisis this year is not another new crisis. For close to a decade now, donor funding to the Agency has stagnated and remained below the amount needed to ensure the continuation of quality services. At the same time the refugee population has continued to grow while poverty and vulnerabilities have skyrocketed. The financial crisis is of an existential nature”, warned Lazzarini.
According to the Commissioner-General, some decisions to decrease or stop support to the Agency are political. Since 2018, the Agency and its mandate have come under increased political attacks. “These attacks aim at harming the reputation of the Agency. These attacks are based on the foolish and wrong idea that by closing UNRWA they will erase 5.8 million Palestine refugees.”
Lazzarini confirmed that the refugees’ rights, including the right of return and compensation, are enshrined in international law and UN resolutions and have nothing to do with the UNRWA mandate.
UNRWA is a United Nations agency established by the General Assembly in 1949 with a mandate to provide humanitarian assistance and protection to registered Palestine refugees in the Agency’s area of operations, namely the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, pending a just and lasting solution to their plight. Thousands of Palestine refugees who lost both their homes and livelihood because of the 1948 conflict have remained displaced and in need of significant support for over seventy years.