At its meeting of 18 November 2020, the Federal Council decided to continue to provide the same level of support to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) for the next two years. Switzerland intends to continue to support and closely monitor the management reforms initiated by UNRWA. Switzerland's 40 million francs contribution will help to alleviate the precarious humanitarian situation, create prospects, reduce the risk of young people becoming radicalised, and strengthen stability in the region.
As the Federal Council noted in its Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Strategy 2021–2024, instability in the Middle East is a major challenge for the countries of the region, the international community and Switzerland. The Syrian conflict that erupted in 2011 and the continuing blockade of Gaza have dramatic consequences for Palestinian refugees in Syria, Gaza and neighbouring countries. Some 95 percent of Palestinian refugees remaining in Syria are dependent on humanitarian aid provided by UNRWA. The COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated the situation of Palestinian refugees and presented UNRWA with new challenges.
With its contribution, Switzerland is helping UNRWA to continue its work in the face of exceedingly difficult conditions. Following this decision, Switzerland's annual contribution to UNRWA's budget will remain at the current level of 20 million francs per year for the next two years. In order to ensure Switzerland's continued ability to exert an influence on UNRWA's policies and working methods, this contribution is limited to a two-year period and has not been approved for the usual four-year period, i.e. until the end of 2024. Since 2005, Switzerland has been a member of UNRWA's Advisory Commission, which is entrusted with the task of advising and assisting UNRWA's Commissioner-General in carrying out the agency’s mandate. Switzerland supports the structural reform processes and management reforms initiated by UNRWA in 2019 to ensure its ability to fulfil its mandate and make efficient use of the funds it receives.
Switzerland's contribution is primarily intended to support UNRWA programmes that provide Palestinian refugees access to education, healthcare and social services. Over half of UNRWA's budget is spent on education. UNRWA operates 711 schools, which provide more than a million children with an education. These schools are creating prospects and reducing the risk of young people becoming radicalised. Graduates of UNRWA's vocational education and training programmes have skills that are in demand in the region's labour market. During the COVID-19 pandemic, UNRWA has taken a number of measures to ensure that pupils can continue to access educational programmes, including through remote learning. UNRWA also operates 144 health centres in the region, which provide high-quality health services for 3.6 million Palestinian refugees each year. It also provides food and targeted cash assistance to some 270,000 Palestinian refugees.
Since its founding in 1949, UNRWA is one of the main Swiss-funded multilateral organisations in the Middle East and a key factor for stability in the region. Philippe Lazzarini, UNRWA Commissioner-General since March 2020, is one of the highest-ranking Swiss nationals at the United Nations.
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