I am writing with an urgent sense of our collective need to better support refugees and colleagues in Syria.
During my recent visit to Syria, I witnessed firsthand the immense suffering of Palestine refugees and Syrians alike. Palestine refugees already deeply affected by the lack of a durable solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict are suffering yet again from what many refer to as “another Naqba” in which they are continuously displaced and dispossessed. In Damascus, I met Palestine refugees whom, prior to the conflict, were not in need of UNRWA assistance but whom are left destitute and dependent on UNRWA due to the deteriorating socio-economic situation in Syria.
Following my visit, I am compelled to send a message in support of our colleagues in Syria and those engaged in regional efforts in Lebanon and Jordan on the Agency’s duty/priority of serving the needs of the most vulnerable conflict-affected Palestine refugees. I acknowledge the courage of UNRWA’s staff in Syria whom despite their own personal tragedies, continue to deliver aid to the most vulnerable Palestine refugees in high-risk environments. Seven UNRWA staff members have tragically lost their lives in Syria due to the conflict and many others live in constant fear of exposure to violence, injury and abduction. Due to the continued dedication of colleagues in Syria, UNRWA remains the UN agency with the largest network of humanitarian assistance in the war-ravaged country.
I ask that you join me and the Commissioner-General in the prioritization of the Syria regional response. This approach means that when faced with a request of support from the field offices, every staff member plays a vital role in ensuring support for existing emergency operations in Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan. The approach is based on the following principles:
1. Rapid response of all staff members to supporting Syria regional emergency operations at all times;
2. Enhanced analysis and information gathering on the key social, economic and political dynamics underlying the conflict;
3. Improved operational preparedness based on contingency planning and building partnerships with humanitarian actors on the ground.
In Syria, UNRWA staff members have already started to move from an installation-based to a refugee-centred strategy of delivering aid in which UNRWA’s operations meet the changing needs of Palestinians caught in a volatile security environment. The refugee-centred modalities for the delivery of assistance mean that education continues to be brought to children wherever they are; that cash, food and non-food assistance be delivered despite the complex displacement/security situation; and that health centres temporarily closed due to poor security are transformed into health points that provide critical care in areas of displacement.
A small team in the Executive Office comprising the Deputy Chief of Staff-Regional Coordinator, Senior Regional Adviser, Programme Analyst, Donor Reporting Officer, and Special Assistant, offers valuable support to the fields through coordination of the Syria response appeal of approximately 200 million USD launched in June. The Syria response team’s sole objective is to support the fields in the implementation of the Syria regional response.
It is sobering to remind ourselves of the plight of Palestine refugees from Syria and the immense responsibilities that we all have in supporting emergency field operations that make a difference in their lives. I ask you to keep in mind the 530,000 Palestine refugees from Syria in need of assistance as well as our colleagues in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, when prioritizing our emergency response.