In 1971 the European Union and UNWRA (The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East ) have established a strong partnership to enhance the humanitarian development of Palestine refugees and therefore to promote stability in the Middle East. Last Tuesday Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl delivered an utterly inspiring speech in the European Parliament about the goals that UNWRA has achieved also with the great support of the European Union (42% of UNWRA total budget is provided by the EU), the U.S. and the Arab States as well.
The Commissioner-General started by recalling the political situation in Palestine, whose two governments in Gaza and the West Bank have caused conflicts and blockades for years. The effects of this unreconciled situation has had tremendous humanitarian effects. Even though UNWRA strongly states its political neutrality, it’s been active in addressing the needs of the people affected by instability and poverty, functioning as a “quasi-state provider”, using the words of Mr. Krähenbühl. He, in fact, stated that in a time where a new political and personal horizon is needed, it is important to address the humanitarian needs of the people whose lives have been ruined by war and terrorism.
In this context, UNWRA has managed to develop educational projects and relief and social services for migrants, that are supported by multiannual Joint Declarations between the organisation and the EU. UNWRA’s actions led to the construction of 700 schools for children and young people in Palestine and jobs for 22 thousand teachers and health carers (98% of which are Palestine refugees). Nevertheless, the dangerous situation in the Gaza Strip is often overlooked because at the moment there’s no daily conflict going on there, unlike in Syria for example. While UNRWA is completely active in territories such as Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, it calls for a deeper awareness of the fact that the Gaza Strip could be a time bomb due to the humanitarian issues it is facing and that can have a dreadful effect in the long run. Gaza’s current condition, if not addressed now, will be tomorrow’s next security concern.
As of today, already 50% of the children and 30% of the adults living in the Gaza Strip have Post Traumatic Stress Disorders due to displacement and loss of family members in the process of migration and during conflicts. Another aspect that must not be underestimated is the lack of freedom of movement. Young students in Gaza who are attending 9 UNWRA schools have never left the Gaza Strip, described by an MEP as a “21st-century jail.” This means that 65% of those kids will never be able to find jobs because of their status as migrants.
In addition to that refugees are not able to get the health care they need. Mr. Krähenbühl brought the example of three cancer patients he met in Gaza that are not able to get their medical treatments in Israel. At this point it is not about whose principle you agree with, whether it be Gaza’s or Israel’s, it is about human rights that are being violated and about whether of not we want peace and security to be achieved. Because of conflicts and the war people are not self-sufficient anymore. It is clear even just by looking at the number of people UNWRA provides with food assistance today, that is 1 million, and in 2000, that was 80 000. Gaza is perfectly capable of economically recreating itself, but it can’t do that under occupation and blockades that prevent young people and refugees to develop their skills and capabilities. This is the reason why a humanitarian approach is urgently needed and UNWRA is a great example of that, together with the EU, the U.S. and its other supporters.
WYA stands together with UNWRA in calling for a human-centred approach to address current issues such as migration, in order to guarantee the protection of refugees and their human dignity under any circumstance, prior, during and after they’ve reached the hosting country. In fact, WYA is organising the Emerging Leaders Conference, which aims at gathering youth from all over Europe to brainstorm and to bring their insights about the refugee crisis the world is facing nowadays. If you want to make your voice heard, apply here to participate!
Written by Barbara Pernice, an intern in the WYA Europe office.