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Palestinians: Human Rights

Volume 467: debated on Thursday 22 November 2007

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the humanitarian situation of the Palestinians in (a) Gaza, (b) the West Bank and (c) refugee camps in neighbouring countries. (166002)

[holding answer 22 November 2007]: We are extremely concerned by the humanitarian situation in Gaza. As of 19 November, only two crossings into Gaza were operating: Kerem Shalom: for humanitarian aid and commercial supplies; and Erez: for personnel movement (workers and traders) to and from Israel and the West Bank.

We are doing all we can to help improve the situation. On 14 November, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced to the House a commitment of up to US$500 million to Palestinian development, conditional on progress towards peace; creating the necessary conditions for economic development; and easing security restrictions on movement and access. During this financial year (2007-08), the UK has provided £31 million bilaterally to the Palestinians: £15 million through United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA); £1 million to the Red Cross' work in the West Bank and Gaza; and £15 million through the Temporary International Mechanism. The UK has also pledged £100 million over five years to UNRWA to help Palestinian refugees.

The ability of Palestinians to move within the West Bank has deteriorated. In October 2007, the UN Office for the Co-ordination for Humanitarian Affairs reported a total of 561 closures in the West Bank. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary raised the humanitarian situation in Gaza and movement and access in the West Bank during his visit to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories on 17 and 18 November. I also refer the hon. Member to the written ministerial statement on the Middle East issued by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary on 20 November 2007, Official Report, columns 127-8WS).

Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon continue to live in unacceptably poor conditions. There is a particularly pressing problem in the North of Lebanon where fighting between the Lebanese army and Fatah Al Islam has destroyed the Nahr El Bared refugee camp. Our ambassador in Beirut has raised this issue with the Government of Lebanon at the highest level. We have pressed them on the need to improve living conditions including by granting them access to government services and the right to work and own property. We are currently looking at measures that the UK can take to support this work. In particular we are exploring ways to support the reconstruction of Nahr Bared, in the first instance through support to a World Bank Assessment mission.

Conditions for Palestinian refugees in Syria are considerably better than for those in Lebanon. However, most refugees continue to have a low standard of living. Many of the water and sewerage systems in refugee camps are in need of upgrading, while some camps still lack networks altogether. Poor sanitation in the camps poses health risks for the refugees. In most of the refugee camps shelters remain very basic and many require structural rehabilitation. Palestinian refugees in Syria have access to government services and whil the Syrian government has taken on the responsibility for providing basic utilities in the camps, UNRWA continues to provide basic environmental health services.

Under long-standing arrangements with the Government of Jordan, UNRWA provides services to Jordan's registered Palestinian refugees. 1.8 million registered Palestinian refugees in Jordan are eligible for UNRWA services. Facilities provided for refugees are concentrated in the 10 official UNRWA camps (there are three other camps which do not come under UNRWA). These services include clinics, schools, vocational training and microfinancing projects; these complement services provided by the Jordanian government. The most disadvantaged refugees are eligible for UNRWA's “special hardship” programme. We continue to engage with UNRWA on prioritising its work with Palestinian refugees.