Lack of funds for Palestinian refugees threatens regional stability, says UN
The United Nations Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) is “an agent of stability” in the region, but the lack of funds and the trivialization of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict threaten the work of the agency in a “volatile region”warned the director of the agency to European lawmakers.
“Your investment in the education, dignity and hope of Palestinian refugees is undoubtedly an investment in regional stability and peace”agency chief Philippe Lazzarini told the EU Foreign Affairs Committee (AFET) on Wednesday (August 31).
UNRWA provides access to education for more than half a million young refugees and to health care for around two million Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.
The EU is one of the main donors to the UN agency and recently signed an agreement for a contribution of €97 million to support UNRWA’s activities in 2022. This contribution includes €15 million. from the Food and Resilience Facility aimed at mitigating the impact of the Ukrainian crisis.
“The EU, as a long-term partner of UNRWA, is committed to maintaining political and financial support for its activities”said Josep Borrell, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs.
Lazzarini, however, warned that UNRWA’s ability to provide basic services to Palestinian refugees was at risk due to chronic underfunding and dwindling support from the international community. This situation has the effect of increasing “despair and the feeling of abandonment” in Palestinian refugee camps.
“Desperation in such a volatile and already desperate region is not a good recipe”he said, adding that “This threat is real and should not be underestimated. »
In May, the UN agency warned of dwindling financial support, calling on the EU and other donors to maintain funds.
“We have reduced operational costs by more than $600 million since 2015. Today, we have reached the limits of austerity measures and cost control”declared M. Lazzarini.
Addressing the MEPs, he underlined the deterioration of the living conditions of the refugees in the host countries, specifying that the war in Ukraine has further deteriorated the situation.
“Shifting geopolitical priorities, shifting regional dynamics and the emergence of new humanitarian crises have deprioritized the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”he told European lawmakers.
“Soaring food and commodity prices are driving Palestinian refugees across the region into deeper poverty, with more than 80% living below the poverty line in Gaza, Lebanon and Syria”he said.
In addition, the instability of the region is worsening.
“The security and economic prospects of the Middle East and the most important host countries have worsened”Paolo Maggiolini, researcher at the Catholic University of Milan, told EURACTIV.
Violence in the region escalated in early August following Hamas airstrikes on Israel.
Due to the clashes, sixty Palestinian refugee families lost their homes, and seventeen children were killed, Lazzarini told MEPs.
Mr Maggiolini believes that the disappearance of the agency risks destabilizing an already unstable region, because “States are almost incapable of providing aid to Palestinian refugees on their own. »
According to him, the lack of financial resources is ” problem “ because UNRWA offers government-like services to the Palestinians, such as health care and access to school.
During the committee meeting, MEPs also focused on the controversy over Palestinian textbooks allegedly containing anti-Semitic material. This situation has delayed the disbursement of European funds intended for the Palestinian Authority until June.
Addressing concerns from some MPs, Lazzarini said independent reports have proven that the textbooks meet UNESCO standards.
“We review textbooks from all countries giving advice to our teachers to ensure that the education provided is in line with UNESCO values and standards”did he declare.
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