Yesterday, senior executives of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) briefed partners on allegations of hate-speech recently levied against several Agency staff members. The allegations, currently under review by the Agency, were timed to disrupt the annual UNRWA pledging conference at United Nations headquarters in New York. Briefings of Agency partners are a routine part of the process undertaken in these situations to ensure effectiveness, transparency and accountability.
“Following the Agency’s review of all the social media posts referenced in the report, six staff members were put on administrative leave,” Deputy Commissioner-General Leni Stenseth said as she reminded Agency partners this was the process used following similar allegations made against UNRWA employees last year. These resulted in staff receiving written censures, significant fines, deferment of eligibility for promotion, and in the case of daily-paid staff, up to two-year prohibitions on working for the Agency, all measures exceeding the standards set by other UN agencies.
Stenseth closed the briefing emphasizing the Agency’s unwavering commitment to upholding UN humanitarian principles and its zero tolerance of hate speech and incitement to discrimination, hostility, or violence: “These are serious times. UNRWA faces a financial crisis that, if unaddressed, could easily negatively impact regional stability. The actions of this organization and the coordinated comments by satellite organizations, demonstrate yet again the real intent. They seek to destroy, not build, to invite conflict, not build a lasting peace. UNRWA will continue in its humanitarian and human development mission, to lift people up from despair to a life of hope and possibilities.”
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 5.7 million Palestine refugees registered with UNRWA across its five fields of operation. Its mission is to help Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank, including East Jerusalem 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.