The commissioner general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), Philippe Lazzarini, visited Luxembourg on 15 June, following trips to Austria and Denmark, as the organisation is looking to rustle up more cash for its cause.
“Year after year, we are accruing debt,” Lazzarini told reporters during a briefing. “My appeal to member states and donors is that this organisation risks exploding if we don’t pay attention.”
Lazzarini said at this point he cannot guarantee payroll for UNRWA’s 30,000 staff that deliver education, healthcare and other essential services to around 5.9m registered Palestine refugees in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.
The agency marks 75 years since its foundation next year--no cause for celebration, the commissioner general said. “We are an organisation that should be temporary,” he said, created to last until a permanent and sustainable peace deal between Israel and Palestine is found. “Perhaps we were never as far from a political solution as we are today.”
Arab League appeal
Luxembourg for 2022 to 2024 pledged €12.3m in a strategic partnership. It added another €3m for a health project in Gaza. Per capita, the grand duchy is the second-biggest contributor, behind the Vatican, Lazzarini said.
“We are proud to contribute to the UNRWA,” Asselborn (LSAP) said, adding: “We do everything we can.”
While Lazzarini’s appeal for more funds “extends to everyone,” Asselborn passed the baton to the Gulf region neighbouring the refugee host countries.
Football star Ronaldo recently signed for a reported €200m annually with Saudi Arabia’s Al Nassr. “If you took these €200m, 100,000 young Palestinians could be educated for six years,” Asselborn said.
The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain in 2020 signed the Abraham Accords to normalise relations with Israel and recognise its sovereignty in a deal brokered by the US administration under president Donald Trump.
“This economic cooperation creates financial advantages. That’s very well. But you cannot forget that a two-state solution is the only outcome to ensure peace in the Middle East,” the Luxembourg foreign minister said.
Lazzarini at an Arab League summit in May had said “Arab countries were among the founders of UNRWA,” urging for the region to renew financial support.
China a new player in the region
The UNRWA at the beginning of this year had appealed for $1.6bn in support of its programmes but has so far received less than a quarter of its financial requirements. The agency carried over debts of $75m from 2022 into 2023 after suffering from chronic underfunding for the better part of a decade.
“We have in Luxembourg a strong voice and advocate,” Lazzarini said. “We count on Luxembourg’s voice within the European institutions. We count on Luxembourg’s voice in New York,” where the UN is headquartered.
Lazzarini said he could not yet comment on a strategic partnership announced on Thursday between the Palestinian authority and China, which said it would support the “just cause” of Palestinian statehood.
President Xi Jinping is staking out a bigger role for China in the Middle East, and the Middle Kingdom helped negotiate a deal between long-time rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia to re-establish diplomatic relations.
China so far has made a “modest contribution” to the UNRWA’s budget, he said, with Asselborn quipping that if the country brought €100m to the table, the agency wouldn’t say no.