Skip to main content

UN Relief and Works Agency

Volume 539: debated on Wednesday 1 February 2012

2. What assessment he has made of the (a) financial situation and (b) capacity to fund existing programmes of the UN Relief and Works Agency in 2011-12. (92778)

5. What estimate he has made of the financial situation of the UN Relief and Works Agency in the occupied Palestinian territories in 2011-12. (92781)

In 2011 DFID gave just over £30 million to UNRWA, and we are in the process of setting our budgets for the next few years. We will work with all donors and host Governments to help UNRWA’s long-term financial position so that it can continue to deliver its programmes to meet the needs of Palestinians and Palestinian refugees.

The Minister will be aware that about 75% of Palestinians in Gaza depend on food aid from UNRWA, and with the massively increased number of demolitions of homes in Jerusalem and the west bank by Israeli forces, UNRWA’s work is vital to Palestinians. The Government have a good record on funding. Will he give a commitment that that will continue, and will he work to ensure that the international community recognises UNRWA’s importance?

Yes, we have repeatedly made clear to the Israelis our serious concern at last year’s 40% increase, as recorded by the UN, in the number of demolitions of Palestinian properties in the west bank and East Jerusalem. We view such demolitions and evictions as causing unnecessary suffering to ordinary Palestinians and as harmful to the peace process. In all but the most limited circumstances, they are contrary to international humanitarian law, and we condemn them.

Given that UNRWA is responsible for the refugee camps outside the occupied territories, will the Minister please update the House on what his Department is doing to support these camps?

My hon. Friend is right to point out that UNRWA’s remit extends beyond the Palestinian territories themselves. Conditions in refugee camps in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan remain fragile, and DFID funds UNRWA to provide essential services to all these refugees across the region. In 2011 our support helped to provide maternal health care to 263,000 women, education for 45,000 children, and food and income support for 29,000 refugees. We are in close contact with UNRWA as it strives to maintain services in Syria.

Most of the support to refugees is given through UNRWA, but we are giving our full support to the Palestinian Authority, it being the effective government of the west bank, and through it we hope to ensure that all those affected are properly supported by access to the full legal rights necessary to pursue any claims that they might have.

May I particularly welcome the extra funding recently announced for the 400,000-plus refugees in Lebanon to help fund health care and education for thousands of children? Does my right hon. Friend agree that although this assistance is welcome in the short term, it is no substitute for the long-term peace settlement necessary to enable these 5 million refugees to go home and get on with their lives?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right and I am sure that the vast majority of Members in this House agree with him. The permanent plight of someone who is an everlasting refugee is not something that any of us would relish, and it is the peace process that we hope can eventually give a permanent settlement and solution for those who are so affected.