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U.N. Relief Agency Faces Immediate Crisis, Warns Outgoing Leader

UNITED NATIONS, Feb 11 2014 (IPS) - During his last visit to the United Nations as head of the department providing relief to Palestinian refugees, Filippo Grandi spoke about the immediate challenges facing his organisation.

Grandi, who served as Commissioner General of the UN  Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) for four years, will turn his responsibilities over to Pierre Krähenbühl, who is director of Operations at the International Committee of the Red Cross, on March 29.

“I leave with mixed feelings, because it is a very difficult moment for Palestinian refugees, and in general for the region in which we operate,” said Grandi, during a press conference Tuesday.

“One crisis chases another in the public’s attention, and I think it is important – because of the responsibilities we have there – not to forget that Gaza is not doing any better than it was last year, unfortunately.”

Grandi described the challenge to alleviate poverty and to expand the donor-base for the organization, while emergency crises across the globe cry louder for resources. “Often we go to donors and say, why aren’t you giving us any more food money for Gaza – because we still distribute food to 800,000 people in Gaza – and the answer is, because those kinds of resources have gone to Syria.”

Of the five million Palestinian refugees UNWRA assists, 540,000 are based in Syria, 18,000 surrounded by fighting in Yarmouk Camp in Damascus, according to the organization.

“We estimate that 80,000 have gone to other countries, to places where it is easiest to go,” said Grandi. “I’ve often said, the Palestinians in Syria have suffered by and large the same fate as the Syrian civilians, but have had much more limited flight options.”

From September to January, and again this week, UNWRA has been unable to bring any relief to many refugees in Syria.

“We are watching what’s happening in Geneva (where Syrian peace talks are happening this week) very closely,” said Grandi. “We are hoping, praying, for at least a cessation of the most violent hostilities. Unfortunately on the ground, the situation continues to be extremely difficult and taxing, for the refugees and for those helping them, like us. We have lost 10 staff already and 21 are missing. We don’t know where they are, this is a very messy war. This happens to civilians. Unfortunately it happened to our staff as well.”

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  • Lets_Think_Again

    The UN Relief and Works Agency does admirable work, in many cases life-saving work. It deserves our unstinting support.

  • Constance

    2 million refugees created by Syrian government hostilities. While UN humanitarian aid admirable, no amount of charity will resolve their plight. It is up to world leaders at highest level including
    US to create situation & incentives where sovereign nations like Syria & Iran suffer consequences for the deadly wars on civilians which they wage and finance.