Press briefing by Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini during the meeting of the UNRWA Advisory Commission (AdCom) in Geneva

25 June 2024
Press briefing by Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini during the meeting of the UNRWA Advisory Commission (AdCom) in Geneva

GENEVA– checked against delivery 

Thank you. Thank you so much. And again, a pleasure to be with you. We have this kind of regular meetings, here in Geneva. It's become a habit. And unfortunately, each time the situation in the region, in Gaza, in the West Bank, but also now in Lebanon, is getting worse. But let me start by telling you why I'm here this week. 

I did not come here to provide briefings for member states. For the first time the Agency decided to have its Advisory Commission meeting outside of the region, and we have decided to have it here, in Geneva. So, we have two Advisory Commission meetings a year with about 40 member states represented in this advisory commission, and it was the first time we were meeting in person since the beginning of the war in Gaza. 

Basically, during this session, we have obviously discussed the attacks UNRWA is under, what are the motivations behind it, what is the risk. Basically, we know that part of the reason of the targeting of the agency, including through legislative efforts and political statements, is related to the refugee status of Palestine Refugees that many would like to see being stripped of. 

We have also warned the members of the Advisory Commission that it would be a mistake to see these attacks only through the lens of a bilateral relation between UNRWA and Israel. Much more is at stake. And, if it succeeds with UNRWA, there will be also other entities which will then be exposed. 

And the risk behind is that we create a new standard for other complex emergencies in the future. Hence my call to the members of the Advisory Commission, but also to the member states in general, to strongly push back on this effort.  

I have also discussed with members of the Advisory Commission the critical role the Agency can play and is playing now. It remains the backbone of the broader humanitarian response in Gaza, but I also do believe that the day we will start a transition, the day in between, the day leading to the day after, the Agency will have absolutely critical contributions to do, especially when it comes to the resumption of education and primary healthcare. And we had a full session dedicated to education to look at how this could be rolled out in Gaza. 

I was also asking the member states to do whatever is possible to politically shield the Agency and to make sure that whenever there is an agreement on any type of roadmap transition, that the role of the agency be also specifically mentioned.  

Now when it comes to the field or the latest, I know that you have quite a lot of information today. 

You heard about the IPC, which was issued in Rome, and which will be further discussed in New York at the noon briefing. But, to tell you the truth, there is very little, positive news to share with you. And also very, very little positive impact from what we heard a week, ten days ago, as being a daily tactical pause to facilitate the humanitarian supply into the Gaza Strip. 

Last night, again, a school has been hit at the level of the Beach Camp, which is in the northern part of Gaza. And, reportedly, we have heard about 12 people who would have been killed and 22 injured. But this would bring also the total of premises which have been hit or damaged or targeted since the beginning of the war to 190, which is more than half the number of premises and the infrastructure that we have in the Gaza Strip. 

And, as you know, these premises and these shelters are also used by the population to seek what remains as a possible protection. But more than 500 people so far have been killed while seeking the UN protection. So that adds, in fact, to my call to the members of the Advisory Commission and other member states. 

We are not only facing the political or legislative or smearing campaigns and attack. But on the ground, the UN and UNRWA have also been targeted. We have paid a heavy price. More than 200 humanitarian staff have been killed, among them 193 only from my own organisation.  

And this is also the reason why I believe that we need more than the welcome Security Council resolution two weeks ago on the protection of humanitarian aid workers. We need to complement this with proper mechanisms of investigation and accountability. Now, when it comes to the aid delivery, it is, I have to say, it is becoming more and more complicated. It has been extraordinary excruciating over the last few weeks to bring aid. Far too many trucks have been looted, have not reached properly destination.

The number of crossings remains far too limited. And basically, we are confronted nowadays to a near total breakdown of law and order, with truck drivers being regularly threatened or assaulted and less and less willing to move assistance from the border to our warehouses and from the warehouses to the people.  In addition to that, you might have heard about the cigarette smuggling, which is the latest type of smuggling taking place in Gaza, where we have been reported that one cigarette costs between US$ 20 and US$ 30. So, you multiply by the number of cigarettes in one pack, la cartouche, and then that gives you, in fact, the value of this cigarette in Gaza.  

Yesterday, for example, just to tell you how precarious the situation is even in terms of resources, we had only 30 litres of remaining gasoline, and all our armoured vehicles in the Gaza Strip do function on gasoline. 

And basically, yesterday we were in a situation where our international staff was not able to move properly. I mean, needless to say, that our call is always the same call and has been hammered and repeated so many times. We need sustainable, meaningful, uninterrupted aid in the Gaza Strip if we want to reverse the hunger situation. 

And you saw the latest IPC report: 1 in 5 people living in a catastrophic nutritional situation, the acute malnutrition impacting nearly the entire population in Gaza, more than 90 per cent. And between those being in emergency and catastrophic situation - and catastrophe means risk of famine is here at any time between now and September - we have in total more than 1 million people. So, our efforts will have to continue and, clearly, the environment today is not conducive for us to fully reverse the trend we have observed until now. 

Maybe just one or two comments on children. You saw that yesterday also an international organization, I think Save the Children, has issued a report on children. Again, the figures are quite staggering, they are talking about 4,000 children missing and 17,000 being unaccompanied. So more than 20,000. And you add this to the report that 14,000 children have been killed since the beginning of the war. And you take into consideration that basically, we have every ten days children losing one leg or two legs on average. This gives you an idea of the scope of the type of childhood a child can have in Gaza. 

Just to flag also, we talk a lot about Gaza, but of course we are all very concerned about the situation also in the West Bank where we keep saying that a kind of a silent war is taking place. If there wouldn't be Gaza today, the West Bank would hit the headlines. More than 500 people have been killed since 7 October. But what is also striking when we go to the West Bank is the intensity of the operations taking place in the refugee camps or in the villages. Two weeks ago, I visited one of them in Tulkarem, and sometimes it looks like a war zone, because the security operations taking place end up most of the time now with the destruction of neighbourhoods, the destruction of public infrastructure and so on. 

We also talked also a lot today about - and I will stop here maybe after - the funding situation of the Agency. You know that before 7 October we were always talking in fact about the funding situation of the Agency, the only agency functioning on a negative cashflow for more than 4 to 5 years. 

We have suffered from the absence of attention given to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict over the last ten years. Our resources have eroded, and we had more and more a mismatch with what we are expected to deliver. And we should never, never forget that UNRWA is unique because we are asked to provide government-like services, but we completely depend on the voluntary contribution of the member states. 

Hence, when the member states are not prioritizing this part of the world or are not prioritizing UNRWA, we start to suffer. We had to muddle through a lot. It had an impact on the quality of our services over the last ten years.  

And then we had 7 October with extraordinary, staggering needs in the Gaza Strip for which, I have to say, we had a good support. But after that, we had 26 January: the allegations with our 12 staff, a temporary pause by a number of countries. And you know the story, two months later the Catherine Colonna report has been fully published. Since, all the donors have come back, we have some new donors, we have a strong generosity from the public. But all this does not compensate for the suspension of our main donor, the United States. And even if we would have the United States, we would definitely not be in a sustainable path when it comes to predictable funding for the Agency.  

So, it remains a struggle. It's still part of the identified existential threat of the Agency. And a big chunk of the discussion we had with the members of the Advisory Commission was very much related to funding.  

So, I think I will stop here. And thank you. 

Background Information: 

UNRWA is the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. The United Nations General Assembly established UNRWA in 1949 with a mandate to provide humanitarian assistance and protection to registered Palestine refugees in the Agency’s area of operations pending a just and lasting solution to their plight.

UNRWA operates in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, The Gaza Strip, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. 

Tens of thousands of Palestine refugees who lost their homes and livelihoods due to the 1948 conflict continue to be displaced and in need of support, nearly 75 years on.

UNRWA helps Palestine Refugees achieve their full potential in human development through quality services it provides in education, health care, relief and social services, protection, camp infrastructure and improvement, microfinance, and emergency assistance. UNRWA is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions.

Your support is crucial to help us provide emergency aid 
to displaced families in Gaza

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