UN relief agency actively seeking new ways to continue to support Palestinian refugees

Short Url
Updated 13 May 2022

UN relief agency actively seeking new ways to continue to support Palestinian refugees

UN relief agency actively seeking new ways to continue to support Palestinian refugees
  • UNRWA will remain committed to its task until there is a just solution to the conflict and the plight of the refugees, the acting director of its Washington office told The Ray Hanania Radio Show
  • ‘We get to points in the year where we are living month-to-month and even week-to-week. That is no way to help Palestinian refugees and no way for our 30,000 staff to live,’ said Bill Deere

CHICAGO: Bill Deere, the acting director of the Washington office of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency said on Wednesday that all options and ideas are being explored as part of efforts to strengthen and sustain support for the nearly 6 million Palestinian refugees and their descendants forced from their homes during the 1947 and 1967 wars.

On April 23, Philippe Lazzarini, the commissioner-general of the UNRWA, suggested that other UN Agencies could be enlisted to help support the agency’s mandate.

He acknowledged that over the years “resources available to UNRWA have stagnated, while the needs of Palestinian refugees and cost of operations keep increasing.” He said it would "not be reasonable” for the agency to remain dependent “almost exclusively on voluntary funding from donors.”

Deere, who was appearing on The Ray Hanania Radio Show, which is sponsored by Arab News and broadcast on the US Arab Radio Network, said that despite the financial challenges, UNRWA is committed to providing support until the long-term status of the refugees is determined through a just and lasting solution to the conflict.

He acknowledged that Lazzarini’s comments had prompted some to mistakenly believe he was suggesting that the UNRWA be disbanded. But Deere said the idea of using existing UN support agencies to assist in delivering the broad range of services UNRWA now provides to Palestinian refugees could be a solution to the agency’s funding challenges. 

“It is an idea from a very innovative leader who is trying to get us out of this seeming loop that we live in,” he said. “We get to points in the year where we are living month-to-month and even week-to-week. That is no way to help Palestinian refugees and no way for our 30,000 staff to live.”

In 2018, in the hope of forcing the Palestinians to accept a peace agreement unilaterally dictated by Israel, President Donald Trump halted all funding to help Palestinians, including donations to the UNRWA.

“The previous (Trump) administration terminated all humanitarian aid to the Palestinian people; they weren’t just singling out UNRWA,” Deere said. “And to my knowledge this was the only group of people in the world the US denied humanitarian assistance to.

“Under the Biden administration, they restored support for the agency. Last year we received about $339 million from the US, a little below the all-time high of $360 million (in 2017). But it is an effective and good partnership that we have with the United States.”

The UNRWA is funded mostly through voluntary contributions from governments and the US is the biggest donor, Deere said. The agency’s mandate is renewed by the General Assembly every three years and its programs evaluated annually by UN member nations.

The “steady decline” in funding for UNRWA services has forced the agency to tap into reserves and implement austerity measures, according to Deere. In 2021, he said, the agency had a $60 million deficit. The previous year, the deficit was $72 million.

“This year, UNRWA faces a year-end funding gap in the range of $100 million, although the number is constantly in flux and will be discussed at a donor conference in June,” Deere added.

“We are certainly not stopping our traditional fundraising or walking away from our mandate — to be clear, we are not walking away from the mandate. UNRWA is not walking away from Palestinian refugees.”

There are concerns about the future, he admitted, and the agency is looking at “long-term alternative solutions” to address the funding challenges. But despite this it continues to provide exemplary services to refugees and their descendants, he added.

“The UNHCR and the World Bank put out a study last year; basically, UNRWA is the gold standard in Refugee education,” Deere said.

“Not only are our kids about a year ahead of host-country schools, we do it in an incredibly cost-effective manner. The British Council presented approximately 60 awards to various schools of ours as we are successfully preparing students to be responsible global citizens.”

He also highlighted the successful response by the agency to the COVID-19 crisis.

“Nowhere was the agency on better display of what it does than during the COVID pandemic,” Deere said. “It was something we can be incredibly proud of, how quickly this organization pivoted within days to deal with this kind of new reality and a situation made worse by the fact that Palestine refugee camps are among the most densely populated in the world.

“But within days, we shifted to tele-medicine. Our health clinics became COVID triage centers. We began home deliveries of food and medicine. We provided food assistance to more than 1 million people in Gaza alone.

“Our teachers began producing materials for remote learning. In fact, we put out material to help parents deal with remote learning. Last year, we unveiled what we call a digital-learning platform and that is going to become the backbone of UNRWA education going forward, as not just the UNRWA but the world moves forward in asynchronous learning. There is really a lot to be proud of in working for this organization.”

UNRWA provides services to refugees in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. Deere said about 5.7 million Palestinians are eligible, although only about 3 million actively seek the agency’s support.

It is a direct-service provider and all work is supervised by a staff of about 30,000 people, most of them Palestinian refugees themselves. The UNRWA’s 700 schools emphasize human rights, conflict resolution, tolerance and gender equity, Deere said. The agency has helped create 700,000 jobs in the region through a loan-equity program, he added, with an emphasis on promoting self-reliance among female refugees. It also provides healthcare services that receive more than 8.5 million patient visits a year at 140 primary clinics, and food assistance for more than 1 million Gazans.

Elsewhere, Deere said the Syrian crisis has severely affected more than 500,000 refugees who rely on food and financial assistance from the UNWRA to survive. In Lebanon, more than 400,000 refugees survive on support from the agency. He added that he believes that Arabs could so more to assist such efforts.

“We are hoping for more support from the Arab World,” he said. “It would go a long way toward addressing our funding challenges.”

The UNRWA can accept donations from the public through online portals such as UNRWA.org and UNRWAUSA.org, he added.


As springs dry up, Nepalese farmers tap into harvesting raindrops

Residents of Kuinkel Thumka sit next to a conservation pond that supplies them with water during prolonged dry periods.
Residents of Kuinkel Thumka sit next to a conservation pond that supplies them with water during prolonged dry periods.
Updated 27 May 2022

As springs dry up, Nepalese farmers tap into harvesting raindrops

Residents of Kuinkel Thumka sit next to a conservation pond that supplies them with water during prolonged dry periods.
  • Prolonged dry periods have been more frequent in recent years due to climate change
  • Farmers build soil-cement ponds to store rain and runoff water

KATHMANDU: Water scarcity in Kuinkel Thumka, a mountainous village in eastern Nepal, has for years made life difficult for residents — until a few months ago, when they started to capture excess rainfall during the monsoon season.

Located in the Middle Hills, between the Himalayas and Tarai, the village of 850 people lies in Kavrepalanchok district of Bagmati province, where the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), has introduced soil-cement ponds to store rain and runoff water.

“We built a soil-cement tank in our village eight months ago and started to collect rain,” Gita Kuinkel, a 53-year-old farmer, told Arab News.

“Before this tank, we didn’t have enough water and our lives were hard. It was not enough for our cattle, household chores and irrigation. Now, the water is enough,” she said.

“We don’t have to buy vegetables, we grow and eat vegetables from our own home gardens.”

Cheap soil-cement conservation ponds are constructed in the region with the help of ICIMOD, an intergovernmental research center serving countries of the Hindu Kush Himalayan region, and the Center for Environmental and Agricultural Policy Research, Extension and Development (CEAPRED), a leading Nepali developmental NGO.

The ponds capture excess rainfall during the monsoon, making water available during prolonged dry periods, which in recent years have been more frequent, even in the Himalayas, as South Asia is experiencing unprecedented heatwaves due to climate change.

Sanjeev Bhuchar, a water management expert at ICIMOD, told Arab News that more than 80 percent of Nepal’s 13 million population was dependent on mountain springs as the primary source of water. But the springs are drying up.

“In Nepal and other Himalaya-Hindu Kush countries, depletion of springs is one of the major emerging water crises,” he said.

“There is increasing evidence that spring discharge is decreasing, or in some cases, ceasing altogether.”

Within the past three years, more than 400 ponds have been built across the country, according to Kiran Bhusal, project coordinator at CEAPRED.

“Farmers can easily build such tanks because the procedure is very easy. It is built with mixtures of soil, sand and cement,” he said. “It is helping the people so much.”

Kamala Adhikary, another resident of Kuinkel Thumka, said that it cost the village about $160 to build a water conservation pond, and the standard of living has changed ever since.

“We didn’t have enough water for drinking, we had to buy water from other areas,” she said.

“Now we can wash our clothes, use it for our cattle and even we do farming, and earn money because of it. It improved our economic condition. A lot of problems have been solved.”

 


Concerns raised over criminalization, transfer of asylum seekers in UK

Concerns raised over criminalization, transfer of asylum seekers in UK
Updated 27 May 2022

Concerns raised over criminalization, transfer of asylum seekers in UK

Concerns raised over criminalization, transfer of asylum seekers in UK
  • Number being granted refuge hits 30-year high
  • Most enter via small boats or other irregular routes now exposed to risk of prosecution

LONDON: Charities have raised concerns over the potential for asylum seekers to be criminalized or transferred to Rwanda as the number being granted refuge in the UK hits a 30-year high.
The Guardian reported on Friday that Home Office data for the 12 months to March shows 75 percent of asylum claims were granted, with Syrians, Eritreans and Sudanese forming the majority of people making their way from countries with typically high approval rates.
However, most of them entered the UK by small boats or other irregular routes now exposed to risks of prosecution under the Nationality and Borders Act passed last month.
The same dataset also showed an increase in the number of Afghans making their way to the UK via the dangerous English Channel crossing, indicating that the resettlement schemes launched after the fall of Kabul to the Taliban last year are not working.
“The government has said it is giving Afghans a ‘warm welcome,’ but these figures reveal that many have felt they have been left with no option but to take this dangerous route to make it to the UK,” said Marley Morris, associate director for migration at the Institute for Public Policy Research.
“The government’s new plans in response to the Channel crossings could mean that Afghan asylum seekers will be sent to Rwanda.
“Contrary to the government’s claims, there are few safe routes for people forced into small boats to make it to the UK.”


Monkeypox can be contained if we act now, WHO says

Monkeypox can be contained if we act now, WHO says
Updated 27 May 2022

Monkeypox can be contained if we act now, WHO says

Monkeypox can be contained if we act now, WHO says
  • "We think that if we put in place the right measures now we probably can contain this easily," said Sylvie Briand, WHO director for Global Infectious Hazard Preparedness
  • So far, there are about 300 confirmed or suspected cases in around 20 countries

GENEVA: Countries should take quick steps to contain the spread of monkeypox and share data about their vaccine stockpiles, a senior World Health Organization official said on Friday.
“We think that if we put in place the right measures now we probably can contain this easily,” Sylvie Briand, WHO director for Global Infectious Hazard Preparedness, told the UN agency’s annual assembly.
Monkeypox is a usually mild viral infection that is endemic in parts of west and central Africa.
It spreads chiefly through close contact and until the recent outbreak, was rarely seen in other parts of the world, which is why the recent emergence of cases in Europe, the United States and other areas has raised alarms.
So far, there are about 300 confirmed or suspected cases in around 20 countries where the virus was not previously circulating.
“For us, we think that the key priority currently is trying to contain this transmission in non-endemic countries,” Briand told a technical briefing for member states.
Needed measures included the early detection and isolation of cases and contact tracing, she added.
Member states should also share information about first generation stockpiles of smallpox vaccines which can also be effective against monkeypox, Briand said.
“We don’t know exactly the number of doses available in the world and so that’s why we encourage countries to come to WHO and tell us what are their stockpiles,” she said. A slide of her presentation described global supplies as “very constrained.”
Currently, WHO officials are advising against mass vaccination, instead suggesting targeted vaccination where available for close contacts of people infected.
“Case investigation, contact tracing, isolation at home will be your best bets,” said Rosamund Lewis, WHO head of the smallpox secretariat which is part of the WHO Emergencies Programme.


Canada police shoot man in Toronto seen with rifle near school

Canada police shoot man in Toronto seen with rifle near school
Police in Canada’s largest city Toronto on Thursday fatally shot a man armed with a rifle. (Reuters)
Updated 27 May 2022

Canada police shoot man in Toronto seen with rifle near school

Canada police shoot man in Toronto seen with rifle near school
  • Bystanders alerted police to the man’s presence in an eastern neighborhood of Toronto

MONTREAL: Police in Canada’s largest city Toronto on Thursday fatally shot a man armed with a rifle, local media reported, in an incident that forced several schools into lockdown just two days after a deadly assault on a US primary school.
Bystanders alerted police to the man’s presence in an eastern neighborhood of Toronto, and the circumstances of what transpired next were not immediately clear.
But city police chief James Ramer told reporters that the suspect, described as a man in his late teens or early 20s, was dead after he had “confronted” responding officers, without elaborating.
The police force’s Twitter account said that after officers located the man, a “police firearm” was “discharged.”
A spokeswoman for the Special Investigations Unit told the CBC that preliminary evidence showed that two police officers had fired their weapons, and the suspect was pronounced dead at the scene.
It was not clear if the man was holding the weapon when police shot him.
Ramer said he was unable to offer more details, as the incident was under investigation.
“There’s no threat to public safety,” he said.
“Due to the proximity to a school, I certainly understand the trauma and how traumatic this must have been for staff, students and parents, given recent events that have happened in the United States,” the chief added.
On Tuesday, a shooting at a Texas elementary school left 21 dead — 19 children and two teachers.


Home Office says a quarter of migrants crossing English Channel fleeing Afghanistan

Home Office says a quarter of migrants crossing English Channel fleeing Afghanistan
Updated 26 May 2022

Home Office says a quarter of migrants crossing English Channel fleeing Afghanistan

Home Office says a quarter of migrants crossing English Channel fleeing Afghanistan
  • Iranians and Iraqis combined make up almost a third of those seeking a better life in the UK
  • The BBC reported 1,094 Afghans made the dangerous crossing in the first three months of 2022

LONDON: One in four migrants crossing the English Channel in the first quarter of the year are people fleeing Afghanistan, according to figures released by the UK Home Office.
The BBC reported 1,094 Afghans made the dangerous crossing in the first three months of 2022, almost as many as the 1,323 Afghans that attempted the crossing in the entirety of 2021.
Iranians made up the next highest demographic at 16 percent, with Iraqis the third highest at 15 percent.
While the figures claim 90 percent of Afghans who made it to the UK were granted asylum, they do not include the UK’s two resettlement schemes set up in the wake of the Taliban takeover of the country in August.
The plans have faced criticism from politicians and sections of the public for leaving thousands of UK translators and others who worked for coalition forces behind after the UK withdrawal.
Compounding that failed operation, the numbers of non-Afghan refugees awaiting an asylum decision in the 12 months to March almost doubled from 66,000 to 109,000.
Refugee Council CEO Enver Solomon said: “Increased numbers waiting for a decision is desperately worrying, and it leaves thousands of vulnerable men, women and children trapped in limbo.
“Adults, banned from working, living hand to mouth on less than £6 ($7.55) and left not knowing what their future holds; this simply is not good enough,” he added.
Amnesty International has pointed the finger of blame for the backlog in asylum decisions at the UK’s Home Secretary Priti Patel, accusing her of a “disastrous leadership” over a department that has become “a byword for backlogs and dysfunction”.
A spokesperson for the Home Office said it had “helped thousands” of people fleeing Ukraine, Afghanistan and Hong Kong.