Filippo Grandi ends his four-year term as UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) Commissioner-General on 29 March, and is handing over to the Swiss national, Pierre Krähenbühl. Mr. Grandi, an Italian, joined the Agency in October 2005 as Deputy Commissioner-General and assumed the leadership of the organization in January 2010. His term in office saw major crises for Palestinian refugees: the Lebanon war in 2006, the destruction of the refugee camp in Nahr el-Bared, Lebanon, in 2007, the Gaza fighting in 2008-2009 and November 2012, and the conflict in Syria.
“My immediate thought as I leave is with the refugees themselves, who are facing profound and widespread challenges in places like Gaza, Lebanon and Syria”, said Grandi. “But beyond the protection crisis that besets them in these places, the fact that they have all been denied a just solution for over six decades heightens their vulnerability and sense of hopelessness. Looking to the future, I will be advocating wherever possible for a resolution of the plight of this population, for justice and dignity for a community whose aspirations must be included if any peace effort is to be durable.”
As Deputy Commissioner-General, Filippo Grandi led a root-and-branch reform initiative of UNRWA, known as Organizational Development, which saw the Agency streamline and simplify its management systems and improve service delivery to a population of refugees now numbering some 5 million. He has also made expanding the UNRWA donor base a priority, and under his leadership contributions from Arab states and organizations and from new donors have increased considerably.
Grandi appointed the first UNRWA Goodwill Ambassador, Arab Idol star Mohammed Assaf. The Agency also began a historic initiative to digitize its vast archive of photographs and films chronicling the Palestine refugee experience, a major contribution to memorializing the work of UNRWA and the history of its beneficiaries from the “catastrophic” Nakba, their original displacement, to the present day.
Recounting the Agency’s vital partnerships with the states hosting the Palestine refugees and donors to the Agency, Grandi said: “Simply put, it is their support and generosity that have helped the refugees develop and realize their potential.” He also expressed gratitude for the special role of staff – most of them refugees – in the work of the Agency: “On the ground, all we achieve is owed to them, their skills and their dedication.”
As Commissioner-General, he has advocated for the full respect of the rights of all UNRWA refugees, whether it be for those living under the illegal Israeli blockade in Gaza, those enduring the excesses of the Israeli occupation in the West Bank or those in besieged areas of Syria.
His visit to the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus in February this year put the international media spotlight on what he called “the profound and tragic suffering” of Palestinians and all civilians across Syria. “My concern and my advocacy for Palestinian refugees do not end with my departure from Palestine. I take away with me after nearly a decade a profound attachment to this land and its people. They will find justice in the end.”
UNRWA is a United Nations agency established by the General Assembly in 1949 and is mandated to provide assistance and protection to a population of some 5 million registered Palestine refugees. Its mission is to help Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank and the Gaza Strip to achieve their full potential in human development, pending a just solution to their plight. UNRWA’s services encompass education, health care, relief and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, and microfinance.
Financial support to UNRWA has not kept pace with an increased demand for services caused by growing numbers of registered refugees, expanding need, and deepening poverty. As a result, the Agency's General Fund (GF), supporting UNRWA’s core activities and 97 per cent reliant on voluntary contributions, has begun each year with a large projected deficit. Currently the deficit stands at US$ 68.2 million.
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