On April 18th 2018 the Palestinian Return Centre hosted a parliamentary event to discuss the recent funding cuts by the US administration and its consequences for UNRWA in the region. The event also tackled the UK’s position on Palestinian refugees and the importance of its continued support to UNRWA. The event was sponsored by Labour MP, David Drew, Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs).
The first speaker Chistopher Gunness, UNRWA’s Spokesperson, Director of Advocacy and Strategic Communications outlined the vital services UNRWA provides to Palestinian refugees in the five areas in which it operates (Gaza Strip, West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria). Mr. Gunness also emphasized the potential fallouts of the US’s administration withholding of funding towards UNRWA. Mr. Gunness reminded the audience that humanitarian aid should not absolve governments from workings towards a political solution that provides Palestinian refugees their rights, especially their right to self-determination.
Mr. Gunness said that UNRWA is leading great efforts to mobilize funding from alternative sources, and launched an international campaign under the title #DignityIsPriceless in this regard. Mr. Gunness stressed that UNRWA is committed to standing with the refugees of Palestine and protecting their rights and dignity.
The second speaker was, Karma Nabulsi, Professor in Politics and International Relations, Fellow in Politics, St Edmund Hall, University of Oxford. Ms Nabulsi talked about what UNRWA means for Palestinians. Ms Nabulsi recalled that UNRWA was supposed to be a brief temporary solution and refugees expected to return to their homes in Palestine shortly after they were displaced in 1948. Ms Nabulsi pointed out that the termination of UNRWA would have catastrophic consequences for Palestinians. Ms Nabulsi concluded that UNRWA’s crisis is the result of a political project to dismantle the agency and undermine the rights of Palestinian refugees. Lastly, Ms Nabulsi emphasised the importance of understanding the current situation in Palestine-Israel as an ongoing process of settler colonialism.
Anne Irfan, Historian at the London School of Economics & University of Sussex, specialising in the history of UNRWA, provided a background of British historical trends in dealing with Palestinians. Ms Irfan outlined that the origins of British responsibility for the current plight of Palestinian refugees stems from the 1917 Balfour Declaration and Britain’s occupation of Palestine. Ms Irfan stated that British policy continues to ignore the root causes of the Palestinian refugee problem.
Last speaker of the evening was Ali Hweidi, General Director ‘Elhayya 302 to Defend Refugees Rights,’ which is a Palestinian organization based in Lebanon . The NGO is concerned with refugee issues. Mr Hweidi stated that UNRWA should terminate its services only when the right of return of Palestinian refugees is implemented. Mr Hweidi regretted that funds are always available for states to wage wars but when refugees are in need of assistance they are denied support. Mr Hweidi was also disappointed with the outcome of the UNRWA donor conference in Rome, in which states did not fill the funding gap required to for the agency. Finally, Mr Hweidi thanked the British government for their support to UNRWA and encouraged support for this vital organization.
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