Thirty-one senior European politicians came in support of the United National Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) yesterday through a letter that reiterated the essential role that the Agency plays in a highly volatile region.
As UNRWA continues to face financial and political challenges, its health, education, social and other services offer 5.6 million Palestine refugees in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, predictability in an otherwise very unstable environment.
“In a region rife with conflicts, and now battling the health and socioeconomic impacts of COVID-19, UNRWA stands as a vital source of regional stability,” says the letter. The Agency managed to quickly shift the way it works in the initial weeks of the pandemic to help prevent a much dreaded outbreak and outspread of the virus in densely populated Palestine refugees camps. By switching to distance-learning, telemedicine and food delivery, among other measures, the virus remained largely contained.
But UNRWA, whose mandate was renewed for another three years last December by an overwhelming majority at the United Nations General Assembly, is struggling to raise the funding it needs to continue running all its programmes. In a recent meeting with donors and host governments at the Advisory Commission, an advisory body to UNRWA, the Agency’s Commissioner-General, Philippe Lazzarini, appealed for support to what he described as “a source of stability in a highly unstable region.”
To date, UNRWA has received funding and pledges that can cover less than 50 per cent of its main budget and 60 per cent for its planned COVID-19 response. It has received even less for its emergency budgets to respond to the acute humanitarian needs in Syria and Gaza, where Palestine refugees often live in abject poverty.