UN Palestinian refugee agency ‘part of the problem’: Swiss minister

Photo showing Palestinians from Gaza break their fast on the first day of the holy month of Ramadan near the border with Israel, May 17, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 17 May 2018
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UN Palestinian refugee agency ‘part of the problem’: Swiss minister

GENEVA: The UN agency for Palestinian refugees is fueling “unrealistic” hopes of return after 70 years of exodus and is therefore helping keep the Mideast conflict alive, Switzerland’s foreign minister said Thursday.
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA)was established after the war surrounding Israel’s creation in 1948, when around 700,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled.
But Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis pointed out that the number of Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, the West Bank and Gaza has swelled to more than five million.
“It is unrealistic that this dream (of return) will be fulfilled for all,” he said in an interview given to several German-language papers owned by the Swiss NZZ group.
“But UNRWA maintains this hope. For me, the question is whether UNRWA is part of the solution or part of the problem,” he said, concluding that “it is both.”
The UN agency, he said, “worked as a solution for a long time, but today it has become part of the problem.”
“It provides ammunition to continue the conflict. For as long as Palestinians live in refugee camps, they will want to return to their homeland,” he said.
“By supporting UNRWA, we are keeping the conflict alive.”
His comments came after a month and a half of mass protests and clashes along the Gaza border, calling for Palestinian refugees to be able to return to their homes now inside Israel.
The largest demonstrations coincided with the move of the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on Monday, which saw Israeli forces kill some 60 Palestinians, pushing the overall toll well over 100.
UNRWA is meanwhile struggling to cover a massive budget shortfall, after major donor Washington slashed its 2018 funding.
The administration of US President Donald Trump has opted to cut the $360 million offered in 2017 to a commitment of just $60 million this year, leaving UNRWA scrambling to raise nearly half a billion dollars to guarantee services until the end of the year.
Switzerland is among a group of countries who together pledged about $100 million in March to help fill the shortfall.
Despite his skepticism of the role UNRWA is playing in the Middle East, Cassis warned the sudden funding cut facing the agency posed “a big risk.”
“Millions of Palestinians could take to the streets,” he said, cautioning that lacking funds could cause the breakdown of a “machinery that provides stability.”
“This is a risk that Switzerland cannot afford,” he said.
Cassis said his country would continue funding UNRWA, but he also called for a heavier focus on integrating Palestinian refugees into their host communities.
He said for instance that “instead of supporting UNRWA schools and hospitals, we could help the Jordanian institutions promote integration of Palestinian refugees.”


Houthi militia ‘must respect neutrality of aid workers’

Updated 19 January 2019
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Houthi militia ‘must respect neutrality of aid workers’

  • The recommendations came as UN monitors try to strengthen a cease-fire in the port of Hodeidah
  • Houthis were blamed for an attack on a UN convey on Thursday

 NEW YORK: UN experts monitoring sanctions against Yemen are recommending that the Security Council urge the Houthis to respect the neutrality and independence of humanitarian workers.

The Associated Press has obtained the nine recommendations the panel of experts made in their latest report to the council.

The recommendations came as UN monitors try to strengthen a cease-fire in the port of Hodeidah, key to the delivery of 70 percent of Yemen’s imports and humanitarian aid, and arrange a withdrawal of rival forces from the area agreed to by the government and the Houthis on Dec. 13.

While the agreement in Stockholm was limited, if fully implemented it could offer a potential breakthrough in Yemen’s four-year civil war.

The experts asked the Security Council committee monitoring sanctions against Yemen to engage with Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s office, Yemen’s government and donors to “enhance” the UN mission inspecting vessels heading to ports in Yemen for illegal arms so it can “identify networks using false documentation to evade inspection.”

They also suggested that Guterres organize a conference with the International Monetary Fund and World Bank as well as other “key actors to best manage cash flows and imports of goods,” using the principles of the UN Global Compact on how companies should conduct business.

And the experts recommended that the secretary-general ask the UN inspection mission and monitors at the port of Hodeidah “to share information on potential cases of acts that threaten the peace, stability and security of Yemen,” including violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, the UN arms embargo, and obstructions of humanitarian assistance.

The experts also asked the sanctions committee to consider sending three letters. One would be to Abu Al-Abbas, a militia commander in the flashpoint city of Taiz, asking him to transfer artifacts and items from the Taiz National Museum in his custody to Yemen’s government. 

A second would be to alert the International Maritime Organization to “the risks posed by anti-ship cruise missiles and water-borne improvised explosive devices in the Red Sea and to encourage it to discuss these threats with the commercial shipping industry with the aim of developing suitable precautions and countermeasures.”

The third would be to alert the International Civil Aviation Organization of the risks posed by drones and munitions to civil aviation, particularly near busy international airports on the Arabian Peninsula “and encourage it to discuss these threats with airport operators and airlines with the aim of developing suitable precautions and countermeasures.”