Palestinian refugee agency warns of instability amid crisis

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

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.


Bahrainis detained by Qatar return to kingdom

Bahrainis detained by Qatar return to kingdom
Updated 54 min 20 sec ago

Bahrainis detained by Qatar return to kingdom

Bahrainis detained by Qatar return to kingdom
  • The 3 were released by Qatari authorities on Thursday and arrived in Bahrain via Oman
  • They were arrested while fishing, Bahrain says they were in territorial waters

DUBAI: Three Bahrainis detained by Qatar have arrived back in the kingdom after Manama helped to extradite their release, the Bahrain News Agency reported on Friday.
Bodybuilding champion Sami Al-Haddad, his friend Mohammed Al-Dossari and fisherman Habib Abbas were released by Qatari authorities on Thursday after they were arrested by Qatari coast and border security while fishing at sea, in two separate incidents. Bahrain said that the three citizens were in the country’s territorial waters.
The three men thanked Bahrain’s King Hamad and Crown Prince and Prime Minister Salman bin Hamad for the attention and care that they had received, which they said had a great impact on their release and return.
They also thanked the interior ministry, headed by Lt. Gen. Sheikh Rashid bin Abdullah, and the foreign ministry, headed by Abdullatif Al-Zayani, for their efforts and the measures that contributed to their safe return.
The men said that they were proud to see the “patriotic interest they received for their cause,” both from the government and the Bahraini people.
Bahrain’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed its “profound thanks and gratitude to Oman for the efforts made by the authorities in the sultanate to coordinate and follow up on the release of Bahraini citizens detained in Qatar and to facilitate their return to Bahrain.”
The three arrived in Oman on Thursday following their release, the kingdom’s embassy in Muscat confirmed.
The ministry said that the release of the citizens by Qatar was “a step that reflects the spirit required toward resolving the outstanding issues between the two countries in order to enhance the process of cooperation between the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries.”
The statement also said that Bahrain hoped that Qatar would release Asian sailors who work on Bahraini fishing vessels, and take into account their humanitarian situation.
Bahrain, along with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt, ended a three-year rift with Qatar on Jan. 5 following a GCC summit in the historic city of AlUla, formally restoring diplomatic relations and opening their land, sea and air borders.