The European Union and UNRWA: Partners to Support Access to Education for Palestine Refugee Youth

13 June 2017
Dr. Alexis Loeber, Head of the Cooperation Sector at the EU Delegation, with EU scholarship recipients during the Students’ Showcase held in Beirut. © 2017 UNRWA Photo by Mahmoud Abu Salah

On Monday, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and the European Union (EU) held a ‘Students’ Showcase’ ceremony in Beirut to highlight the achievements of students who received scholarships through the UNRWA Scholarships Programme, funded by the European Union.

The ceremony was attended by Dr. Alexis Loeber, Head of the Cooperation Sector at the EU Delegation, and the Director of UNRWA Affairs in Lebanon, Claudio Cordone, in addition to UNRWA staff.

The European Union has provided scholarship support to young Palestine refugees since 2005, with grants totalling nearly EUR 12.5 million. As a result, more than 600 students were able to attend universities in Lebanon.

Currently only 6.2 per cent of Palestine refugees residing in Lebanon hold university degrees, as highlighted in the American University of Beirut’s 2015 Survey on the Socioeconomic Status of Palestine Refugees.

The EU-funded project has contributed to the economic self-reliance of young Palestine refugees in Lebanon and improved their access to the labour market. The scholarships have covered a wide range of majors including engineering, sciences and the liberal arts.

During Monday’s event, students from different majors and universities showcased their final projects and theses. The representatives of the agencies overseeing the programme saw first-hand the fruit of this critical investment in the futures of young Palestine refugees.

Mr. Cordone said: “There are many success stories related to the achievements of the students. They include young professionals – brilliant ones – working in the private and not-for-profit sectors, as well as UNRWA itself. I would really like to congratulate the students and express UNRWA’s sincere appreciation to the EU for having enabled them to fulfil their dreams.”

Mr. Cordone also called on donors to support the tertiary education of Palestine refugees through the UNRWA Scholarships Programme as the European Union’s contribution concludes.

Alexis Loeber said: “Receiving a scholarship is a fantastic opportunity and it distinguishes you as eager learners with high aspirations. But receiving a scholarship is also a responsibility – a responsibility towards your own community. The positive impact of the scholarship in your lives, your families and your community is significant.”

He continued, “This is why I invite other donors to help increase the number of beneficiaries by also contributing to the UNRWA scholarship programme. The new strategy for the Scholarship Programme will enable UNRWA to implement their vision for a more effective and efficient roadmap that aims at increasing the numbers of Palestinian graduates.”

Alaa Maarouf is one of the EU scholarship recipients and graduated with a computer engineering degree from Lebanese American University. “The five years at LAU changed a lot in my life,” she explained. “I learned that university life is not only about a high GPA; it is about growing as a social being and a leader.”

She added, “The scholarship opened the door for a totally different life, and the journey doesn't stop after my bachelor degree. I want to continue my education and impact the lives of other young students, just like the scholarship impacted mine.”

Expressing his gratitude to the European Union and the UNRWA Scholarships Programme, Mohamad Ali, who is currently studying English Literature at Lebanese University, said: “The scholarship helped me in my career and eased my financial burden. Without it, I would have been lost. I think it is a great achievement in my life.”  

EU and UNRWA: Together for Palestine Refugees

Since 1971, the European Union and UNRWA have maintained a strategic partnership governed by the shared objective to support the human development, humanitarian and protection needs of Palestine refugees and promote stability in the Middle East. Today, the European Union is the largest multilateral provider of international assistance to Palestine refugees. This reliable and predictable support from the European Union enables UNRWA to provide core services to more than 5 million Palestine refugees in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza, including quality education for roughly half a million children and primary health care for more than 3.5 million patients. Collectively, the EU and its Member States are also among the largest contributors to the Agency’s humanitarian emergency appeals and projects in response to various crises and specific needs across the region. The partnership between the European Union and UNRWA has allowed millions of Palestine refugees to be better educated, live healthier lives, access employment opportunities and improve their living conditions, thus contributing to the development of the entire region.

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 million registered Palestine refugees. Its mission is to help Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank 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.