Gulf Update Arab countries hosting Palestinian refugees reject any amendment to UNRWA mandate
BEIRUT: UNRWA Advisory Commission meetings commenced in Beirut on Tuesday, with Arab countries hosting Palestinian refugees insisting that the agency remain in control of its mandate under Resolution 302 (1949).
The agency provides services to over 5.8 million Palestinian refugees in Arab host countries, namely Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, as well as the West Bank, which believe these services provide “a stability factor in the region.”
The meetings of the UNRWA Advisory Commission, held for the first time in Beirut, were chaired by Lebanon. Topping the commission’s agenda was the financial crisis facing the agency and ways to mobilize financial resources.
The 25-member commission is tasked with advising and assisting the UNRWA commissioner-general in carrying out the tasks of the agency’s mandate.
Palestinian refugees held a sit-in in front of the hotel where the meetings were held, demanding that their health and educational rights be secured through the agency.
The agency’s services include primary and vocational education, primary healthcare, social services, camp infrastructure, microfinance and emergency response, including in situations of armed conflict.
Philippe Lazzarini, UNRWA commissioner-general, had addressed Palestinian refugees on April 23, sparking 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 broader UN system,” he had said, noting: “Such partnerships have the potential to protect essential services and your rights from chronic underfunding.”
Lazzarini had stressed: “There is no handover or transfer of responsibilities and programs on the table and no tampering with the UNRWA 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 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 everything that contradicts and affects the national rights of our people and the agency’s specific mandate,” he told Arab News.
Faisal called on Lazzarini to withdraw the proposal to transfer UNRWA services to international institutions immediately, as amending 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 secure a stable budget for the agency that responds to the needs of the refugees, especially those living in Lebanon; to secure funds for the reconstruction of Syrian camps and the destroyed homes in the Gaza Strip; and to open the door for employment to Palestinian refugees.
Lazzarini had summed up the current situation faced by refugees and UNRWA staff in his message to Palestinian refugees, saying: “I have witnessed increased disarray and frustration, which sometimes has turned into anger.
“This year, a very harsh winter and the impact of the war in Ukraine on prices of food and fuel in the region add to the daily hardship you are facing.
“Every year, I and my predecessors call on donors to help avoid disruption of services, to the point where it has become almost customary that a commissioner-general must beg for help.
“The painful reality is that in the last 10 years, and despite immense outreach and fundraising efforts, the resources available to UNRWA have stagnated, while the needs of Palestine refugees and cost of operations keep increasing.
“The now chronic underfunding of UNRWA is the result of a combination of shifting geopolitical priorities, new regional dynamics, and the emergence of new humanitarian crises compounded by donor fatigue for one of the world’s longest unresolved conflicts. All these have led to a clear de-prioritization of the Palestinian issue, including most recently among some donors from the Arab region.”
According to UNRWA’s website, 2.8 million refugees benefited from the agency’s health services in 2021.
Prior to the meeting of the UNRWA Advisory Commission, the Arab countries hosting Palestinians held a meeting at the headquarters of the Lebanese government, in which representatives from Jordan, Syria, Palestine, Egypt and the Arab League participated.
The representatives called on donor countries to fulfill their financial obligations toward supporting the agency’s budget and to provide additional funding.
They also urged UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to raise the value of the budget the UN provides to UNRWA to cover the financial deficit it is facing.
The head of the Lebanese-Palestinian Dialogue Committee, Basil Al-Hassan, pointed out that reforms are on the Advisory Commission’s agenda, and 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 payroll in the countries hosting refugees.