The Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), Philippe Lazzarini, visited Balata and Askar Palestine refugee camps in the northern West Bank yesterday. The Commissioner-General was joined by Ms. Gwen Lewis, Director of UNRWA Affairs in the West Bank.
With a focus on meeting community representatives and gaining a better understanding of the everyday concerns of young people, the visit prioritized exchanges with students and with community-based organisations that operate inside the camps. In Balata camp, the Commissioner-General met with the student parliament of Balata Girls’ School 2 and congratulated the students on winning the 2020 “International School Award”. This award is sponsored by the British Council to support schools in completing collaborative, curriculum-based work to introduce internationalism in school teaching and learning. Balata School is one of the 14 other UNRWA schools in the West Bank to receive the same award.
“It is always extremely refreshing to listen to and exchange with the young bright girls and boys who are parliamentarians in UNRWA schools,” said the Commissioner-General. “They represent their peers, come up with creative solutions, suggest actions to improve equitable access to learning.”
Mr. Lazzarini met with several Palestine refugees from both camps and listened to a comprehensive briefing provided by UNRWA frontline staff, including medical staff and sanitation workers, on the compelling work conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
During his visit, Mr. Lazzarini met with representatives of local community organizations, was briefed on the conditions of refugees in both camps separately and discussed the major challenges and needs facing the refugee community, particularly during the pandemic, including issues related to youth, children, women and the elderly.
“During these very difficult times for Palestine refugees, I fully appreciate the role that community-based organisations play in keeping the community together, with a focus on empowering young people,” said the Commissioner-General. “We must find ways to ensure that community initiatives continue to help ensure social cohesion. This is something that the international community would surely encourage and support.”
Balata camp is the largest of the 19 refugee camps in the West Bank, with a population of 27,000 refugees, while Askar camp is home to 21,000 Palestine refugees.
UNRWA 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