Against the backdrop of the current refugee crisis that has swamped Europe, the European Union announced on Wednesday, September 30, that it will be providing more financial assistance to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), a UN organization that provides support for Palestinian refugees living within and around Israel.
“This is an investment in their future and at the same time an investment in the stability in Europe’s neighbourhood,” said Commission for European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, Johannes Hahn. “This additional contribution will also allow UNRWA to bridge its financing gap in 2015 and to move forward in the implementation of its reform process.”
The assistance package, which increases the total amount of EU support for UNRWA this year to 125 million euros, comes as part of an agreement that was signed yesterday between Hahn and UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl. The extra money will be given to many of the services provided by UNRWA, such as education and healthcare.
Ten million euros have already been set aside for UNRWA’s education and healthcare services in Syria where at least 480,000 Palestinian refugees live. The immediate assistance to Palestinian refugees in Syria is meant to at least partially contain the growing trend of the thousands of refugees who have been leaving the conflict-ridden countries in the Middle East for Europe.
UNRWA Commissioner-General Krähenbühl welcomed the agreement with the EU. “This important and generous contribution from the EU means that we will be able to overcome our funding shortfall for the year, allowing us to concentrate our efforts on ensuring the long-term financial stability of UNRWA so that our core programmes are never again put at risk,” said Krähenbühl.
“I am deeply grateful for this latest commitment from the EU, which has long been a valued and reliable partner of UNRWA in providing for the needs of Palestine refugees,” continued Krähenbühl. “This support is crucial in ensuring that Palestine refugees will continue to have access to quality education, healthcare and life-saving services until a just solution for their plight is achieved.”
Johannes Hahn affirmed the EU’s role as an important partner of UNRWA. “The EU is the largest and most reliable donor to UNRWA in its invaluable work with Palestinian refugees, providing them with access to primary education, health and social services, even under very harsh conditions,” said Hahn.
UNRWA, which is primarily funded by contributions from UN member states, was established by the UN in 1949 to carry out relief and work programs for Palestinians who lost or fled their homes during Israel’s War of Independence in 1948. Only Palestinians who were residents in the British Mandate of Palestine between June 1 1946 and and May 15 1948 can apply for eligibility as a Palestinian refugee. Descendants of such refugees as well as adopted children also receive refugee status.
The EU has been providing UNRWA with financial support since 1971. Between 2007 and 2014, the EU gave UNRWA more than 1 billion euros, 809 million of which was set aside for core programs and services provided by UNRWA. The agreement reached yesterday continues the long-standing relationship between the EU and UNRWA.
Along with UNRWA’s support for Palestinian refugees in Syria, the UN through the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) provides aid and assistance for the more than 4 million Syrians who became refugees as a result of the civil war in Syria. Unlike UNRWA which deals with a specific case of refugees, the UNHCR is a separate organization serving refugees all over the world. The UNHCR was established in 1950, a year after UNRWA, in light of the refugee crisis resulting from World War II.
By Jonathan Benedek
Tazpit News Agency