UNRWA Commissioner-General visits Palestine refugees in Jordan amid COVID-19 pandemic

PNN/ Jerash/

The Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), Philippe Lazzarini, visited Jerash and Souf camps in northern Amman yesterday. The Director of UNRWA Affairs in Jordan, Marta Lorenzo, the Chief of Staff of UNRWA,  Ugochi Daniels, and the Director-General of the Department of Palestinian Affairs, Eng. Rafiq Khirfan, accompanied him on the visit.

Lazzarini met with Palestine refugees from these two camps and received thorough briefings from frontline UNRWA staff, including medical staff and sanitation laborers about the compelling circumstances of working during the COVID-19 pandemic. He also met notables from the Palestine refugee community in Jerash camp to hear directly from them about challenges that they and their families faced.

“It is always very humbling to meet the UNRWA teams who work around the clock to ensure all services continue despite lockdowns and health risks,” said Lazzarini. “Most of my health, social, sanitation and other colleagues come from the Palestine refugee community themselves; they are the face of UNRWA in a community whose needs have exponentially increased during the pandemic. I salute your commitment and your courage.”

Souf Camp is one of the six original emergency camps established after the 1967 hostilities to house some of the 300,000 displaced persons from the West Bank and Gaza, including some 120,000 Palestine refugees. Today, UNRWA provides education, health, relief and social services and infrastructure and camp improvement to over 20,000 registered Palestine refugees in the camp.

Jerash Camp is home to nearly 32,000 registered Palestine refugees, making it Jordan’s fifth-most populous Palestine refugee camp. UNRWA installations inside Jerash camp also provide services for registered Palestine refugees living in the camp’s adjacent neighborhoods.

Representatives of the school parliament at Jerash Camp Preparatory Girls School briefed the Commissioner-General about the preventative measures to avert the spread of the virus and the challenges of accessing online classes in the era of COVID-19. While the schools in Jordan were closed because of the pandemic, many Palestine refugees continued to learn despite their struggle to stay connected, as their access to the internet and to smart devices was a challenge.

“Today’s visit was a huge opportunity to listen to the challenges that young UNRWA school students have faced in their distance learning,” said the Commissioner-General. “It was also a reminder of their commitment to learning, to practicing democratic values, and to problem solving. The young girls and boys I met today have clear asks: they want to learn, they have dreams, and want UNRWA to continue helping them reach their dreams through equitable, quality education that is adapted to the digital age. This is very much in line with the aspirations of their peers everywhere in the world, in fact!”

Meanwhile, UNRWA says it is confronted with an increased demand for services resulting from a growth in the number of registered Palestine refugees, the extent of their vulnerability and their deepening poverty. UNRWA is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions and financial support has been outpaced by the growth in needs. As a result, the UNRWA programme budget, which supports the delivery of core essential services, operates with a large shortfall. UNRWA encourages all Member States to work collectively to exert all possible efforts to fully fund the Agency’s programme budget. UNRWA emergency programmes and key projects, also operating with large shortfalls, are funded through separate funding portals.

UNRWA is a United Nations agency established by the General Assembly in 1949 and mandated to provide assistance and protection to some 5.7 million Palestine refugees registered with UNRWA across its five fields of operation. Its mission is to help Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip achieve their full human development potential, pending a just and lasting solution to their plight. UNRWA services encompass education, health care, relief and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, protection and microfinance.

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