Palestinian refugee agency warns of instability amid crisis

UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini speaks during an interview with The Associated Press at the UN relief agency in Beirut on Wednesday. (AP)
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Updated 17 September 2020

Palestinian refugee agency warns of instability amid crisis

  • UNRWA now provides education, health care, food and other services to 5.8 million refugees and their descendants in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon

BEIRUT: The UN agency for Palestinian refugees, or UNRWA, is experiencing a financial crisis that could force it to halt some services to an already impoverished population of more than 5 million people, the head of the agency said on Wednesday.

Philippe Lazzarini also warned in an interview with The Associated Press in Beirut that the spread of coronavirus, an economic meltdown in Lebanon and a huge deficit in UNRWA’s budget are deepening the hopelessness among Palestinian refugees, some of whom are trying to flee the Mediterranean nation on migrant boats.

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 5.8 million refugees and their descendants in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.

UNRWA’s financial crisis was sparked by the loss of all funding from the US, its largest donor, in 2018. The US gave $360 million to UNRWA in 2017, but only $60 million in 2018, and nothing last year or so far this year.

US President Donald Trump said in January 2018 that the Palestinians must return to peace talks with Israel to receive US aid money. He has since put forth a plan for resolving the conflict that heavily favors Israel and was rejected by the Palestinians.

“I do believe that ceasing our activity in a context where there is such a level of despair, such a level of hopelessness, can only fuel the feeling that the Palestinian refugees are abandoned by the international community,” said Lazzarini, who took office in March.

Lazzarini said supporting UNRWA “is one of the best investments in stability in the region at a time of extraordinary unpredictability and volatility.”

“We cannot let the situation get worse in a highly volatile region,” he said.

The Swiss humanitarian expert said UNRWA is facing an estimated shortfall of about $200 million between now and the end of 2020 if the agency wants to maintain all the services in its five fields of operations, including schools, health centers and social welfare.

Lazzarini said the coronavirus is having “a huge economic and financial impact also on our donor base.” He said most donor countries are in recession at a time when Palestinians need even more aid because of the pandemic and various lockdowns.

UNRWA has registered 6,876 confirmed cases among Palestinian refugees, most of them in the West Bank, where some 5,000 cases have been detected. Lebanon, which hosts tens of thousands of Palestinians, registered 430 cases in refugee camps.

“We have people being more and more in despair expecting UNRWA to deliver more services, at a time UNRWA is already experiencing financial crisis,” Lazzarini said. “It makes it much, much harder to mobilize the necessary resources.”

Lazzarini on Wednesday discussed conditions of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon with President Michel Aoun and outgoing Prime Minister Hassan Diab. Aoun called for the return of Palestinians who fled to Lebanon in recent years from Syria’s civil war.

The UN official said he met with Palestinians in refugee camps during his visit to Lebanon who spoke about their hardships amid the country’s worst economic and financial crisis in decades. Lebanon’s local currency has lost 80 percent of its value, wiping away the life savings of Lebanese and Palestinians alike.

“There is a really deep sense of hopelessness and despair today in the Palestinian camps,” he said, adding that some families have been forced to cut back on food purchases.

“I believe that despair and hopelessness in a situation like this one can indeed lead to violence and to instability,” he said.


UAE reports new record high of 1,538 coronavirus infections

Updated 21 October 2020

UAE reports new record high of 1,538 coronavirus infections

  • The total number of cases in the UAE since the pandemic began has reached 119,132
  • The country has also confirmed two deaths, raising the number of COVID-19-linked deaths to 472

DUBAI: The UAE has recorded 1,538 coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours after conducting 105,740 tests, state news agency WAM reported.
The Ministry of Health and Prevention said the total number of cases since the pandemic began has reached 119,132. The country has also confirmed two deaths, raising the number of COVID-19-linked deaths to 472.
The ministry also said 1,501 people had recovered from COVID-19 overnight, bringing the total to 111,814.
The UAE, with a population of around 9.9 million people, has seen the number of daily new cases surge over the past two months from 164 on Aug. 3 to a new high of 1,538.