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Calls for closure aim to end 'refugee status of millions of Palestinians,' says UNRWA head

Anadolu Agency WORLD
Published April 18,2024

The head of UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) on Wednesday said calls for the organization's closure are "about ending the refugee statues of millions of Palestinians."

Speaking at the UN Security Council session on The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question, Philippe Lazzarini said UNRWA "is a stabilizing force in Gaza" in the region.

The Council session commenced with a minute of silence in honor of the humanitarian aid workers who lost their lives in Gaza, where Israel has continued its attacks since the Oct. 7, 2023 cross-border incursion by Palestinian group Hamas.

The UNRWA chief stressed that "in Gaza, the agency is the backbone of the humanitarian operation, coordinating and providing lifesaving assistance. Beyond Gaza, it has championed human development for Palestine Refugees for decades across the region."

He emphasized that "an insidious campaign to end UNRWA's operations is underway, with serious implications for international peace and security."

Reminding that UNRWA's "mandate is supported by an overwhelmingly majority of member states," Lazzarini said "the agency is under enormous strain, it is facing a complaint to push it out of the occupied Palestinian territory."

Saying that at least 178 UNRWA personnel have been killed by Israeli attacks since last October, Lazzarini demanded "an independent investigation and accountability for the blatant disregard for the protected status of humanitarian workers, operations, and facilities under international law."

Drawing attention to the rising violence in the occupied West Bank, the agency chief said "UNRWA's operation space is shrinking, with arbitrary measures imposed by Israel to restrict the presence and the movement of stuff."

Recalling the independent investigation that the UN is conducting regarding allegations that some staffers were involved in the Hamas attacks, Lazzarini said the remaining suspension of funding by some donors "has serious operational implication and undermine the financial sustainability of the agency."

He reaffirmed that the agency's dedication to implementing recommendations and enhancing safeguards against neutrality breaches.

"Calls for UNRWA's closure are not about adherence to humanitarian principles. These calls are about ending the refugee status of millions of Palestinians," Lazzarini stressed.

Noting that "the agency exists because a political solution does not," Lazzarini said the closure of UNRWA would deepen the crisis in Gaza.

"In the short-term, it will deepen the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and accelerate the onset of famine. In the longer-term, it will jeopardize the transition from cease-fire to 'day after' by depriving a traumatized population of essential services," he said.

He warned that the inability to provide education could lead a generation towards despair, fueling anger, resentment, and endless cycles of violence, and said: "A political solution cannot succeed in such a scenario."

Emphasizing the need for impartiality, Lazzarini noted that both sides suffer and deserve a peaceful and secure future.

"I urge you to help realize this future through principled multilateral action and a genuine commitment to peace," he added.

The UNRWA is the largest humanitarian organization in Gaza, and is considered the backbone of the humanitarian aid operations in the enclave.

Following the Israeli accusations, more than a dozen countries, including the US, UK, Australia, halted payments to UNRWA, pending an investigation. However, several countries later resumed their contributions.

The agency was created by the UN General Assembly more than 70 years ago to assist Palestinians who were forcibly displaced from their lands.