Aiding Palestine refugees is not political

Attacks on UNRWA are aimed at politicising a humanitarian organisation that has remained neutral in its work with Palestinian refugees

Palestinian students taking an exam at a school run by UNRWA in Hebron on 26 May 2019

Philippe Lazzarini writes in Aljazeera:

Mohammad is a seven-year-old boy living in Gaza, which in June will enter its 15th year of a land, air, and sea blockade. Like the nearly 300,000 students in Gaza who attend schools run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), he has been in and out of in-person and remote learning since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic a year ago. He battles against electricity cuts every day to receive online educational materials prepared by UNRWA teachers who also struggle to get access to electricity and the internet. Mohammad’s right to education remains inalienable even during a pandemic and a humanitarian crisis.

He is just one of the 5.7 million Palestine refugees registered with UNRWA today, many of whom have faced unimaginable suffering since their ancestors were displaced from their homeland over 70 years ago. The one-year anniversary of the global lockdown marks 12 months of even greater suffering for Palestine refugees across the region.

As commissioner-general of UNRWA, my responsibility is to ensure that Palestine refugees in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria, receive the basic services to which they are entitled. And yet, in the past year, UNRWA has been the subject of attacks of unprecedented ferocity and bias.

The charge most frequently levied against us is that UNRWA plays a political role. This could not be further from the truth. UNRWA is mandated to provide direct, vital humanitarian assistance to Palestine refugees pending a just and lasting solution to their plight. That is the agency’s priority and focus. It does not engage in politics. UNRWA, like all other United Nations agencies and international NGOs, is bound to the four humanitarian principles (humanity, impartiality, neutrality, and independence) that are enshrined in two UN General Assembly resolutions.

This means that all UNRWA operations are exclusively driven by the alleviation of suffering (humanity), while ensuring that our response is independent from military and political aims (independence), with no discrimination (impartiality), and not taking sides in conflict (neutrality). Being political is antithetical to being a humanitarian.

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Philippe Lazzarini is the Commissioner General of UNRWA

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