UN names new head of troubled Palestinian refugee agency

(Reuters)
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Updated 18 March 2020

UN names new head of troubled Palestinian refugee agency

  • Lazzarini has more than 30 years of experience in delivering humanitarian assistance and coordinating international efforts in conflict and post-conflict situations
  • Lazzarini will replace former UNRWA commissioner-general Pierre Krahenbuhl

UNITED NATIONS: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday appointed Swiss humanitarian expert Philippe Lazzarini to head the beleaguered UN agency for Palestinian refugees, which has faced a financial crisis following the cutoff of US funding and a crisis of confidence after its previous leader was accused of abusing his authority.
The UN chief made the announcement following consultations with the Advisory Commission of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
He said Lazzarini has more than 30 years of experience in delivering humanitarian assistance and coordinating international efforts in conflict and post-conflict situations for the United Nations, the International Committee for the Red Cross, and the private sector. He is currently the UN humanitarian chief for Lebanon.
Lazzarini will replace former UNRWA commissioner-general Pierre Krahenbuhl, who resigned in November following a preliminary internal UN investigation that raised “management issues,” reflecting concerns over allegations of possible sexual misconduct, nepotism and other abuses of authority at the agency.
Those allegations, in a confidential UN ethics office report, came amid an unprecedented financial crisis for UNRWA, sparked by the loss of all funding from the United States, its largest donor.
US President Donald Trump said in January 2018 that the Palestinians must return to peace talks with Israel to receive US aid money — an announcement that led leaders of 21 international humanitarian groups to strongly criticize the American administration for linking aid and political objectives, calling it “dangerous.” The US gave $360 million to UNRWA in 2017, but only $60 million in 2018, and nothing last year or so far this year.
UNRWA was established to aid the 700,000 Palestinians who fled or were forced from their homes during the war surrounding Israel’s establishment in 1948. It now provides education, health care, food and other services to 5.5 million refugees, their children and grandchildren in the West Bank and Gaza Strip as well as Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.
The ethics office report obtained by The Associated Press in July 2019 claimed UNRWA managers including Krahenbuhl, a Swiss national, had “engaged in sexual misconduct, nepotism, retaliation, discrimination and other abuses of authority.”
Citing information from some 25 current and past UNRWA directors and staff, the ethics report said an “inner circle” comprising Krahenbuhl, his deputy, chief of staff and senior adviser had bypassed normal decision-making processes and sidelined field and program directors and other senior staff. It alleged that Krahenbuhl started a relationship with his senior adviser that “went beyond the professional,” created “a toxic environment,” and caused “frequent embarrassment.”
Lazzarini joined the United Nations in 2003 and has served in various posts in the UN humanitarian office. He earlier was head of marketing for the Union Bancaire Privée in Geneva and served for 10 years with the ICRC as deputy head of communication, head of its delegations in Rwanda, Angola and Sarajevo, and as an ICRC delegate in southern Sudan, Jordan, Gaza and Beirut.
Dujarric said the secretary-general expressed gratitude to acting UNRWA chief Christian Saunders of Britain, who will continue to serve until Lazzarini starts his new job. No date was given.


LIVE: Countries across Middle East continue to ease COVID-19 restrictions amid strict precautions

Updated 4 min ago

LIVE: Countries across Middle East continue to ease COVID-19 restrictions amid strict precautions

DUBAI: Countries in the Middle East are taking a range of different measures to fight the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
The Egyptian government announced new regulations to stop the further spread of the virus as the public prepared for life after lockdown and coexisting with the coronavirus. Regulations include mandatory wearing of masks when leaving home. Offenders face fines of up to $254 for not wearing masks.
Meanwhile, Abu Dhabi announced a one-week ban on leaving or entering the emirate, and travel between its main cities, to be implemented from June 2. 
However, with the easing of restrictions, Tens of thousands of mosques across Saudi Arabia reopened on Sunday for the first time in more than two months. The Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, Islam’s holiest site outside of Saudi Arabia, also reopened for prayers for the first time since it was closed in mid-March. 
MONDAY (GMT time) 
05:53 - Traffic jams and crowds of commuters returned to the Philippine capital on Monday, as the metropolis eased its restrictions in a high-stakes gamble to slowly reopen the economy while fighting the coronavirus pandemic.
05:31 - Turkey re-opens restaurants, cafes and parks on Monday and lifts inter-city travel curbs as the country eases restrictions taken to fight the coronavirus outbreak. President Tayyip Erdogan’s government has been gradually easing the restrictions over recent weeks, as authorities say the outbreak is now under control.
05:07 - Financial stocks led Indian shares higher on Monday, as the country geared up to further open its economy after a months-long lockdown to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.