(19 December 2019) Renewing UNRWA’s mandate is the first step in securing protection for Palestinian refugees and IDPs

On 13 December 2019, 169 United Nations’ Member States voted in favor of renewing the mandate for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). The renewal once again re-affirms the responsibility and commitment of the UN and its member states towards not only UNRWA but more importantly, Palestinian refugees.

The vote has sent a clear message to Israel and its staunchest ally, the US administration, that the UNRWA and Palestinian refugees remain crucial and pertinent issues to the UN and its member states.  

The renewal of the mandate which has ensued consistently every 3 years since 1949 when the Agency was established,  occurred in the midst of a strategic and persistent US-Israeli campaign not only to delegitimize but also eliminate the UNRWA and with it the issue of Palestinian refugees. The US and Israel were the only member states to vote against the mandate renewal. 

While the Global Palestinian Refugee Network (GPRN) applauds the widespread and decisive stance of the UN reflected in the mandate renewal, both the Agency and Palestinian refugees still face significant existential threats. The mandate renewal is the first of a number of necessary steps that need to be taken by the international community to close the protection gap faced by Palestinian refugees.  The next three years provides an opportunity for the international community to reassess UNRWA’s mandate and rectify the structural gaps that have been severely detrimental to the Agency and the Palestinian refugees it is mandated to support. 

The chronic shortfalls in the funding of UNRWA’s core budget is due to the fact that its relies on voluntary donations from states – a situation which has negatively impacted the quality and quantity of essential service delivery to Palestinian refugees. It has rendered the Agency vulnerable to the political inclinations of states and often resulted in restricted and project-based funding.

UNRWA is also handicapped by its perfunctory definition of who constitutes a ‘Palestine’ refugee, which falls short of the internationally established legal and functional definition of refugee. The UNRWA definition fails to encompass a significant number of Palestinian refugees and therefore omits them from accessing vital services. This is compounded by the geographic limitations of the Agency, which restricts its operations to Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt). In the wake of regional conflict and instability that has led to the alarming phenomenon of secondary displacement of Palestinian refugees from traditional host countries to Europe, Palestinian refugees are more vulnerable than ever.

As a result, the protection gap faced by Palestinian refugees continues to widen as the UNRWA fledges to fulfil its purpose, which is undermined by these deficiencies in its mandate. The GPRN continues to demand international measures for the protection of Palestinian refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) and by extension the protection of the UNRWA which can be achieved through reform of its mandate. The GPRN calls upon the UN and its member states to fulfill their obligations towards the Palestinian refugee and IDP population by:
  1. Making urgent grants to close the 2019 deficiency in the UNRWA’s budget which stands at USD 167 million.
  2. Converting state contributions to the UNRWA core budget from voluntary to mandatory contributions to guarantee consistent support to essential programs (education, health care and social services). These should be earmarked by the General Assembly as part of its annual budget, ensuring the provision of a minimum annual core budget.
  3. Expanding UNRWA’s mandate to enable it to provide the required international (humanitarian, legal and physical) protection to all Palestinian refugees in all their places of residence.
  4. Ensuring that UNRWA is not involved in any political deal and reaffirming the commitment to the rights-based approach to resolving the issue of Palestinian refugees. This particularly includes implementation of the UN General Assembly Resolution 194 of 1948 and UN Security Council Resolution 237 of 1967.
  5. Rejecting transference of the UNRWA’s responsibilities and tasks to host countries through international grants, including to the Palestinian Authority, or to international or civil society organizations.
UNRWA is our Right until Return
Global Palestinian Refugee Network
The GPRN is a network of 45 Palestinian community-based organizations in Mandatory Palestine and abroad working to raise the voice of the Palestinian refugee and IDP population for the realization of the full spectrum of our rights, particularly the right of return.