Arab countries hosting Palestinian refugees reject any amendment to UNRWA mandate
BEIRUT: UNRWA Consultative Commission meetings began in Beirut on Tuesday, with Arab countries hosting Palestinian refugees insisting that the agency is within 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 the West Bank, which it believes provide “a stabilizing factor in the region”.
Lebanon presided over the UNRWA Consultative Commission meetings held for the first time in Beirut. Top of the agenda of the commission were 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 agency’s mandated functions.
Palestinian refugees staged a sit-in in front of the hotel where the meetings were held, demanding that their health and educational rights be protected 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.
UNRWA’s commissioner-general, Philippe Lazzarini, addressed Palestinian refugees on 23 April, prompting panic among refugees over the fate of their cause after suggesting funding options. “One option that is currently being explored is to maximize participation within the broader United Nations system,” he said, adding that “such partnerships have the potential to protect essential services and your rights from chronic underfunding.”
Lazzarini had insisted: “There is no devolution 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 a member of the Political Bureau of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, believes the refugees’ concerns are justified.
He told Arab News, “The Palestinian people adhere to UNRWA as one of the components on which the right of return is based, and we reject everything that concerns the national rights of our people and the agency’s specific mandate.” Contrast and influence.”
Faisal called on Lazzarini to withdraw the proposal to immediately transfer UNRWA services to international institutions, as amending the agency’s mission is exclusively the prerogative of the United Nations General Assembly.
He also called on the Advisory Commission to develop plans that would secure a stable budget for the agency responding to the needs of refugees, particularly those living in Lebanon; securing funds for the reconstruction of Syrian camps and destroyed homes in the Gaza Strip; and to open jobs for Palestinian refugees.
Lazarini summarized the current situation faced by refugees and UNRWA staff in his message to Palestinian refugees: “I have seen growing disorganization and despair, which sometimes turns into anger.
“This year, a very harsh winter and the impact of the war in Ukraine on food and fuel prices in the region have added to the daily hardship you face.
“Every year, my predecessors and I call on donors to help them avoid disruptions to services, to such an extent that it has become almost customary that a commissioner-general must beg for help.
“The painful reality is that over the past 10 years, and despite enormous outreach and fundraising efforts, resources available to UNRWA have stagnated, while the needs of Palestine refugees and the cost of operations continue to grow.
“UNRWA’s now-old underfunding is the result of a combination of 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 of these have clearly articulated the Palestinian issue. , including 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.
Before the UNRWA Consultative Commission meeting, the Arab countries hosting the Palestinians held a meeting at the Lebanese government headquarters, attended by representatives from Jordan, Syria, Palestine, Egypt and the Arab League.
The delegates called on donor countries to support the agency’s budget and meet their financial obligations towards providing additional funding.
He also urged UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to increase the value of the budget that the United Nations provides to UNRWA to counter the fiscal deficit.
The head of the Lebanese-Palestinian Dialogue Committee, Basil al-Hassan, pointed out that reforms are on the agenda of the Advisory Commission, and the proposals include ways to reduce the amount of political interference in employment within UNRWA, especially when the agency does not require it. It currently has 28,000 employees on its payroll in countries that host refugees.