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UNRWA: Relief agency in need

Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock sits in a group of pupils and teachers

Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock visiting an  UNRWA-school in the refugee camp Talbieh, Jordanien, © Florian Gaertner/photothek.de

18.03.2022 - Article

UNRWA is vital to the survival of many people in the Middle East. The UNRWA for Palestine Refugees in the Near East is chronically underfunded, however. Foreign Minister Baerbock received UNRWA Commissioner-General Lazzarini to discuss reform efforts and Germany’s support for the relief agency.

UNRWA is vital to the survival of many people in the Middle East. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East is chronically underfunded, however. Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock received UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini today to discuss reform efforts and Germany’s support for the relief agency.

During her trip to the Middle East last month, which included visits to Israel, the Palestinian territories and Jordan, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock visited the Talbieh refugee camp in Jordan, where she was able to gain an insight into the important work of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

She talked to schoolchildren about the prospects that UNRWA offers young people through educational work, in spite of the most difficult circumstances. The Foreign Minister received Philippe Lazzarini, the head of the relief agency, in Berlin today to discuss the situation of the UN Organisation.

Under threat

Foreign minister Annalena Baerbock and UNRWA-Commissioner-General standing in front of flags
Foreign minister Annalena Baerbock in conversation with UNRWA-Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini© Thomas Trutschel/photothek.de

While it is undisputed that UNRWA provides essential services to nearly six million people in the Palestinian territories, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, it has lacked the necessary funding for years and faces an ever-increasing number of tasks and growing needs.

Despite a growing refugee community, UNRWA has had to tighten its belt for years. Since the beginning of the year, there has been a financial shortfall that threatens the relief agency’s very existence. UNRWA announced that a tipping point could be reached in the coming months.

Nevertheless, 28,000 UNRWA employees rightly expect their monthly salaries to be paid on time. Almost all UNRWA employees are themselves Palestinian refugees. A large number of them are teachers, as well as doctors and humanitarian personnel, whose important work helps people live their daily lives in dignity.

Reform process ongoing

Foreign Minister Baerbock’s discussion with Commissioner-General Lazzarini also focused on UNRWA reform, such as efforts to improve environmental and social responsibility as well as energy efficiency. Issues of gender equality and the improved participation of families and children were likewise on their agenda. UNRWA pledges to modernise itself across the board as an aid agency, particularly in the area of the digital transformation.

Germany is one of UNRWA’s biggest bilateral donors, flanking its commitment with political support. As a member of the UNRWA Advisory Commission, Germany is a strong advocate of the monitoring of UNRWA.

A dependable partner in a difficult situation

In her discussions with UNRWA Commissioner-General Lazzarini today, Foreign Minister Baerbock emphasised the fact that Germany remains a dependable partner for UNRWA as an essential factor for stability in the region. The German Government will support UNRWA with an additional eight million euro, which UNRWA can use to pay salaries, for example.

Germany’s support for UNRWA will come from funds provided by the Federal Foreign Office and the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development. This money will support the fields of humanitarian assistance, infrastructure development and the education and healthcare sectors. The healthcare sector in particular continues to grapple with the fallout from the COVID‑19 pandemic.

Germany is helping to meet the immense humanitarian needs in the region not only through UNRWA, however. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), which also manages the Country-Based Pooled Funds, is a further recipient of funding from Germany. The German Government also works with the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, the World Food Programme (WFP) and NGOs to provide people with emergency assistance more effectively.

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