UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini statement to the UN Security Council

25 August 2022
UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini statement to the UN Security Council

Mr. President,

Distinguished Members of the Security Council,

Allow me first to express my sincere appreciation for the opportunity offered by the Presidency to address the Security Council.

Since I last briefed this Council in May last year, the situation of Palestine refugees has further deteriorated.

Over 80 per cent of Palestine refugees in Lebanon, Syria and Gaza live below the poverty line.

In Gaza, the escalation of violence earlier this month was a stark reminder that war and violence can erupt anytime in the absence of a genuine and comprehensive effort to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Sixty Palestine refugee families lost their homes. Seventeen children were killed. Eight were students in UNRWA schools.

Nearly half of UNRWA students suffer from trauma and need special assistance to cope with the repeated cycles of violence and the economic hardship that their families live in.

In the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, political, economic and security conditions are deteriorating as Palestine refugees experience high levels of dispossession, violence and insecurity.

In Syria, after 11 years of conflict, the most destitute families are returning to live amid the rubble of their destroyed homes as they can no longer afford rent.

Children who returned to demolished camps such as Yarmouk or Ein el Tal walk near unexploded ordnances to take UNRWA buses to school.

In Lebanon, the pressure on the Agency to do more to address the impact of the economic and financial crisis on the Palestine refugee community is becoming unbearable.

Protests and acts of violence directed against UNRWA, are, at times, forcing my colleagues to close our installations. Illegal emigration of Palestine refugees is rising.

In Jordan, the pandemic left deep scars on the labor market. Unemployment is soaring, particularly for females and young people. Child labor and early marriage are reportedly on the rise.

Despite these challenging operating environments, UNRWA remains the lifeline for one of the most underprivileged and desperate communities in the region.

Going to school, getting health services or receiving a food parcel are, for many Palestine refugees, their only sources of normality. They look to UNRWA for that normality.



For over seventy years, UNRWA has been a source of opportunity and the hope for a better future for generations of Palestine refugees.

With the support of Member States, the Agency has contributed to one of the most successful human development stories in the region.

From educating over two million Palestine refugee girls and boys, to universal infant vaccination and reduced maternal mortality that exceeds global standards, there is a lot for us all to be proud of.

During armed conflicts, your support enabled UNRWA to provide shelter and protection – and helped rebuild destroyed neighborhoods and communities.

The psycho-social support that Palestine refugee children receive is key to their mental wellbeing and essential for their ability to learn.

And the quality of the education which UNRWA students receive is praised by reputable validators such as the British Council, UNHCR and the World Bank.

On average, they outperform their peers by one year of learning.

In Syria, nearly 95 per cent of UNRWA students passed their national exams this year. Rama, from Yarmouk refugee camp, achieved the highest scores despite prolonged displacement and repeated power cuts.

Success stories are everywhere, from Ghada who is the first woman technician in renewable energy in Gaza, to Bara’a, who joined a medical research team in Spain that is making groundbreaking progress in the fight against pancreatic cancer.

Today, children and young people must be able to perform and compete in an increasingly digitalized world.

UNRWA is committed to giving Palestine refugees that ability.

Our Information Technology hub in Gaza serves the whole UN system and provides jobs to over 120 young women and men.

We reached gender parity in our schools a long time ago and we are the only public-like educational institution to have rolled out a comprehensive Human Rights curriculum in our 700 schools across the region.

While we are acutely aware that we operate in a politically charged environment, we have made unparalleled investments in promoting UN values and UNESCO standards across our programs and through staff attitudes.



Today our collective achievements are at risk.

For the past decade, the chronic underfunding of our program budget has made it increasingly challenging for the Agency to fulfil the mandate given by the General Assembly.

Shifting geopolitical priorities, shifting regional dynamics, and the emergence of new humanitarian crises have deprioritized the Israeli- Palestinian conflict.

Coordinated campaigns to delegitimize UNRWA with a view to erode the rights of Palestine refugees are increasing in frequency and in maliciousness.

The Agency has also experienced more than once how a change in domestic politics can suspend support overnight.

Consequently, and despite immense outreach efforts, funding has stagnated over the last decade, forcing us to operate with a shortfall of around US$ 100 million year after year.

Until last year, the funding gap was managed through cost control, austerity and carryover of large liabilities from one year to the other. But today, we have no financial reserve. We have reached the limit of austerity and cost control measures.

Today, UNRWA is facing an existential threat. What is at stake?

Quality and principled education for over half a million girls and boys. Access to health care for around 2 million Palestine refugees and a social safety net for around 400,000 of the poorest amongst the poor. Psycho-social support for hundreds of thousands of children.

Job opportunities for the youth in Gaza and elsewhere.

Emergency food and cash assistance for over 2 million Palestine refugees across the region to meet their humanitarian needs.

What is at stake is simply the sense of normality and hope that our services bring to Palestine refugees.



A major aspect of the role of UNRWA in regional stability stems precisely from the predictability of its high-quality services.

For Palestine refugees, UNRWA remains the last standing pillar of the commitment of the international community to their right to a dignified life and their right to a just and lasting solution.

When they see us delaying salaries, decreasing the quality of the services and unable to respond to increasing needs, they understand that the support of the international community to their plight is fading.

Despair and a sense of abandonment are growing in the refugee camps.

Despair is a threat to mental wellbeing. Despair is a threat to peace and stability.



It is hard to believe that the lack of sufficient resources results solely from financial constraints.

The impact of predictable services on the safety of refugees and on regional stability should suffice to convince every Member State to commit funding to UNRWA in line with the resolutions they adopt. Instead, the Agency continues to be under three sources of intense pressure:


The commitment of the General Assembly to uphold the rights of Palestine refugees and its instruction to UNRWA to deliver a number of public-like services until a just and lasting solution.


The lack of sufficient funding from Member States to implement the mandate and the unpredictability of most of the funding.


The objection to any perceived change in the way services are delivered. Any such change is seen as an attempt to encroach on the rights of the refugees. Hosts and refugees fear that it may lead to weakening UNRWA and, with time, dismantling it all together.

Failing to reconcile these demands will make the UN General Assembly mandate more and more impossible to implement.

Our ability to fulfill the UNGA mandate lies with Member States of the United Nations and with their political will to fully fund our core budget.

I appeal today to Member States who have reduced their funding to

reconsider the impact of their decision on the region’s stability.

I appeal to those who have changed their political and foreign policy dynamics in the region to continue to be part of the success stories of UNRWA education.

In a few weeks, the extension of the UNRWA mandate will be put to the General Assembly for approval.

I appeal to all Member States to mobilize politically and financially to support UNRWA and to continue working towards a political solution that will benefit the region and its peoples.


Thank you, M. President.

Background Information: 

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.