Arab countries hosting Palestinian refugees reject any amendment to UNRWA mandate

BEIRUT: Meetings of the UNRWA Advisory Commission began Tuesday in Beirut, with Arab countries hosting Palestinian refugees insisting the agency retain control of its mandate under resolution 302 (1949).

The agency provides services to more than 5.8 million Palestinian refugees in Arab host countries, namely Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, as well as in the West Bank, who find these services provide “a factor of stability in the region”.

The meetings of the UNRWA Advisory Commission, held for the first time in Beirut, were chaired by Lebanon. High on the committee’s agenda was the financial crisis facing the agency and ways to mobilize financial resources.

The 25-member Commission is responsible for advising and assisting the Commissioner-General of UNRWA in carrying out the tasks of the agency’s mandate.

Palestinian refugees staged a sit-in outside the hotel where the meetings were being held, demanding that their rights to health and education be guaranteed through the agency.

The agency’s services include primary and vocational education, primary health care, social services, camp infrastructure, microfinance, and emergency response, including in situations of armed conflict.

QUICKFACTS

  • Palestinian refugees in Arab host countries, namely Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, as well as in the West Bank, who believe that these services provide “a factor of stability in the region”.

  • The meetings of the UNRWA Advisory Commission, held for the first time in Beirut, were chaired by Lebanon. High on the committee’s agenda was the financial crisis facing the agency and ways to mobilize financial resources.

Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner-general of UNRWA, had addressed the Palestinian refugees on April 23, causing panic among the refugees over the fate of their cause after suggesting funding options. “One option that is currently being explored is to maximize partnerships within the wider UN system,” he said, noting, “Such partnerships have the potential to protect essential services and your rights from under- chronic funding”.

Lazzarini had stressed, “There is no transfer or transfer of responsibilities and programs on the table and no alteration of UNRWA’s mandate.”

However, Ali Faisal, deputy chairman of the Palestinian National Council and member of the Political Bureau of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, believes that the refugees’ concerns are justified.

“The Palestinian people adhere to UNRWA as one of the components on which the right of return is based, and we reject anything that contradicts and affects the national rights of our people and the specific mandate of the agency”, said- he told Arab News.

Faisal called on Lazzarini to immediately withdraw the proposal to transfer UNRWA’s services to international institutions, as changing the agency’s mission is exclusively the prerogative of the UN General Assembly.

He also called on the Advisory Commission to develop plans that would ensure a stable budget for the agency that responds to the needs of refugees, especially those living in Lebanon; obtaining funds for the reconstruction of Syrian camps and destroyed houses in the Gaza Strip; and open the door to employment for Palestinian refugees.

Lazzarini summed up the current situation facing refugees and UNRWA staff in his message to Palestinian refugees, saying: “I have witnessed heightened bewilderment and frustration, which has sometimes turned into anger.

“This year, a very harsh winter and the impact of the war in Ukraine on food and fuel prices in the region add to the daily difficulties you face.

“Each year, I and my predecessors appeal to donors to help avoid service interruptions, to the point where it has become almost customary for a commissioner general to have to ask for help.

“The painful reality is that over the past 10 years, and despite immense advocacy and fundraising efforts, the resources available to UNRWA have stagnated, while the needs of Palestinian refugees and the cost of operations keep increasing.

“UNRWA’s now chronic underfunding is the result of a combination of shifting geopolitical priorities, new regional dynamics and the emergence of new humanitarian crises compounded by donor fatigue with one of the longest unresolved conflicts in the world. All of this has led to a sharp deprioritization of the Palestinian issue, including more recently among some donors in the Arab region.

According to the UNRWA website, 2.8 million refugees benefited from the agency’s health services in 2021.

Prior to the meeting of the UNRWA Advisory Board, the Arab countries hosting Palestinians held a meeting at the seat of the Lebanese government, which was attended by representatives from Jordan, Syria, Palestine, Egypt and the Arab League.

Representatives called on donor countries to fulfill their financial obligations to support the agency’s budget and provide additional funds.

They also urged UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres to increase the value of the budget the UN provides to UNRWA to cover the financial shortfall it faces.

Head of the Lebanese-Palestinian Dialogue Committee, Basil Al-Hassan, stressed that reforms are on the agenda of the Advisory Commission and that the proposals include ways to reduce the volume of political interference in employment within UNRWA, especially since the agency does not need the 28,000 employees it currently has on its staff in the countries hosting refugees.

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