UNRWA’s Institutional Presence and Neutrality

By Ramona Wadi

In his address to the UN General Assembly’s Fourth Committee on Decolonisation, UNRWA Commissioner General Pierre Krähenbühl gave a detailed overview of the restrictions faced by the organisation which, in turn, affect the lives of Palestinian refugees. From a recapitulation of the repercussions of Operation Protective Edge, which formed the foundations of last year’s report to the Fourth Committee, the civil war in Syria and violence in Lebanon’s refugee camps, Krähenbühl unravelled details of the humanitarian situation, managing to illustrate the impact of violence on refugee education.

However, the UNRWA head missed an opportunity to narrate Palestinian realities within a wider context that includes addressing international oppression. The organisation was portrayed as the means through which Palestinians can achieve a measure of stability, and this was achieved by depicting UNRWA’s education system as playing an essential role “in the dynamic of regional conflict”. The simplification is insufficient to describe the dynamics that affect Palestinian refugees.

The “essential role” of UNRWA is already compromised by its dependence on voluntary donations by UN member states; this ensures that services offered to Palestinian refugees are always threatened by funding shortages and so will not foster a possibility of autonomy. The regional conflict which Krähenbühl refers to is instigated by some of UNRWA’s donor countries, hence the perpetual cycle of offering less aid and investing more in violence, which safeguards both the organisation’s existence and violent international conflict. The trend attempts to assimilate Palestinians into a subjugated role, a phenomenon that is now experienced by refugees seeking to escape civil war in Syria. As such, UNRWA’s role should also be perceived as the means through which the agency’s own dependency affects Palestinian aspirations, as well as political visibility.

– Read more: UNRWA’s Institutional Presence and Neutrality – MEMO

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