UN extends mandate for agency supporting Palestinian refugees

UNRWA's mandate overwhelmingly renewed for another three years, despite opposition by US and Israel.

    UNRWA provides education, health and relief services as well as housing and microfinance assistance to more than five million registered refugees [File: Mohammed Ballas/AP Photo]
    UNRWA provides education, health and relief services as well as housing and microfinance assistance to more than five million registered refugees [File: Mohammed Ballas/AP Photo]

    The United Nations General Assembly has overwhelmingly renewed the mandate for a UN agency supporting Palestinian refugees for another three years amid misconduct allegations and a cash shortfall triggered by a halt in US funding.

    The mandate of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) was extended on Friday until June 30, 2023, with 169 votes in favour and nine abstentions. The United States and Israel voted against.

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    UNRWA, which as established in 1949, provides education, health and relief services as well as housing and microfinance assistance to more than five million registered refugees in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, the besieged Gaza Strip as well as in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

    The agency has faced budgetary difficulties since last year, when the US - its biggest donor - halted its aid of $360m per year.

    The Palestinian group Hamas, which administers the besieged Gaza Strip, hailed the UN vote as a defeat for the US and a failure of its attempts to pressure UN member-states against UNRWA.

    "We welcome the decision to renew the international mandate to UNRWA and we see it as another failure to hostile US policies to the Palestinian rights," Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters News Agency.

    'A humanitarian lifeline'

    Last month, UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krahenbuhl resigned amid an investigation into misconduct allegations.

    A confidential internal agency ethics report, first reported on by Al Jazeera in July, accused Krahenbuhl and his "inner circle" of "abuses of authority for personal gain, to suppress legitimate dissent and to otherwise achieve their personal objectives".

    It claimed that members of the inner circle "engaged in misconduct, nepotism, retaliation ... and other abuses of authority" following the fallout from Washington's decision to cut its contributions to UNRWA.

    Krahenbuhl has denied wrongdoing and said his agency was the victim of a political campaign designed to undermine it.

    Following Al Jazeera's report, Belgium, Netherlands and Switzerland suspended their contributions to UNRWA.

    The US has advocated shifting the agency's relief services to refugee host countries.

    But UNRWA counters it provides a humanitarian lifeline and that it safeguards and advances Palestinians' rights under international law.

    Hanan Ashrawi, a senior Palestine Liberation Organization official, praised the UN vote on Friday and said it was the UN's responsibility to combat what she said were US and Israeli attacks on Palestinian refugees.

    "All attempts at trying to limit UNRWA's mandate or defund it or attack it have failed, and we hope that the international community will continue to come to the rescue," she said.

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    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies