Residents wait to receive food aid distributed by UNRWA at the besieged al-Yarmouk camp.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
NEW YORK – “Palestinian refugees today feel more left behind” than ever, the head of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees said on Tuesday.
Pierre Krähenbühl, UNRWA commissioner- general, presented his second annual report to the United Nations Fourth Committee and said that the “vulnerability and isolation” of the Palestinian refugees have “intensified reaching levels not seen in generations as conflicts expand in the Middle East region and thrust one community after another into extreme insecurity.”
The Fourth Committee of the General Assembly deals with decolonization, Palestinian refugees and human rights, peacekeeping, mine action, outer space, public information, atomic radiation and the University for Peace.
“For Palestine refugees, many already subjected to severe inequalities and discrimination, the present situation has created a new existential crisis; where possible, flight is a choice of escape, as they join the refugee exodus within the region and flowing into Europe,” Krähenbühl said.
“UNRWA is shocked by the upsurge in violence that has affected Palestinian and Israeli civilians and the pattern of deadly force against Palestinians,” he said.
In his report the commissioner-general addressed the situation in the Gaza Strip where he said that 1.3 million Palestine refugees “reside in mostly dire conditions.”
“The illegal blockade of Gaza remains in place subjecting Palestinians to collective punishment and denying all but a few the opportunity to lead normal lives, including by interacting with the outside world,” he said. “Reflecting this, 893,000 Palestine refugees are food dependent, 11 times the number 15 years ago.”
He added that the unemployment in Gaza, according to UNRWA numbers, has reached 42% and that in 2014, Gaza’s economy “de-developed” with negative growth of 15%.
“If all these indicators of severe stress were not enough to provoke feelings of despair, imagine how Palestine refugees felt when there was a risk of 250,000 schoolchildren in Gaza not going to UNRWA schools in autumn,” he added.
According to him, last summer’s Operation Protective Edge in Gaza served the agency as “a warning to that we must now take serious steps, by means of a cooperative and collective effort to ensure that UNRWA is put on a more sustainable future financial basis.”
UNRWA’s projected budget shortfall for 2016, which was originally estimated at $135 million, has been recently reduced to $81.
“My firm conviction is that strengthening financial viability of UNRWA is a collective responsibility amongst all stakeholders,” Krähenbühl said.