The Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) Philippe Lazzarini called on the international and donor community to support Palestine refugees in Syria. After a visit to Damascus on 19-21 April, and ahead of the international conference on “The Future of Syria and the Region” to be held next month, he reminded donors and policymakers that some 438,000 Palestine refugees remain in Syria, most at least once displaced and living under the poverty line.
The recent spike in the prices of food, fuel and commodities globally adds a layer of hardship to an already dire situation for the refugees in Syria, after 11 years of conflict. Many report living on one meal a day, preferring to lower their intake to be able to feed their children.
“It is very difficult to describe the destitution of most Palestine refugees in Syria,” said the UNRWA Commissioner-General. They often seem to fall off the grid, off the global attention. They need the support of the international community. After 11 years of a grueling conflict that displaced half the population, most Palestine refugees need UNRWA cash assistance to survive. Sadly though, insufficient funding to UNRWA makes it unable to cover their needs. Female headed families and families of disabled children are most vulnerable and most in need of support,” said Mr. Lazzarini
UNRWA expects Palestine refugee families that receive government clearance to continue returning to camps such as Yarmouk and Ein el Tal, despite the destruction and risks of unexploded ordinance. “UNRWA must be able to provide at least basic health and education services to Palestine refugees who have no choice but to return to camps that are still largely destroyed,” said Mr. Lazzarini. “It is always very compelling to see the scope and scale of destruction in Yarmouk and other Palestine refugee camps. It is also very gripping to see the extraordinary resolve and determination of young Palestine refugee girls and boys and their avidity to learn,” he added after a meeting with UNRWA schools parliamentarians at the Beit Lahia Ariha School in Khan Dunoun camp.
During his visit, the Commissioner-General met with Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates, Dr. Faysal Miqdad and the Director-General of the General Authority for Palestinian Arab Refugees (GAPAR), Mr. Qasem Husein to discuss the situation in Palestine refugee camps and ways to continue to support jointly Palestine refugees.
The Commissioner-General lauded the UNRWA front line staff, teachers, doctors, nurses, social workers for their dedication in providing essential services throughout the conflict to Palestine refugees, sometimes at the risk of their own life. UNRWA has lost 19 staff member in Syria since the beginning of the conflict.
UNRWA is confronted with an increased demand for services resulting from a growth in the number of registered Palestine refugees, the extent of their vulnerability and their deepening poverty. UNRWA is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions and financial support has been outpaced by the growth in needs. As a result, the UNRWA programme budget, which supports the delivery of core essential services, operates with a large shortfall. UNRWA encourages all Member States to work collectively to exert all possible efforts to fully fund the Agency’s programme budget. UNRWA emergency programmes and key projects, also operating with large shortfalls, are funded through separate funding portals.
UNRWA is a United Nations agency established by the General Assembly in 1949 and mandated to provide assistance and protection to some 5.7 million Palestine refugees registered with UNRWA across its five fields of operation. Its mission is to help Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip achieve their full human development potential, pending a just and lasting solution to their plight. UNRWA services encompass education, health care, relief and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, protection and microfinance.