The hostilities in the Middle East also affect the five million Palestine refugees living throughout Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinian Territories, with a risk of radicalisation as the region becomes more unstable. Pierre Krähenbühl, the commissioner-general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), issued the warning when he addressed the EP's foreign affairs committee on 2 March. He also said the EU had a crucial role to play.
We interviewed Krähenbühl following the meeting to find out his views on the current situation:
How is the continuing conflict in Syria affecting the estimated 480,000 Palestine refugees remaining in the country?
We're dealing with one of the most catastrophic conflicts. There were originally around 560,000 Palestine refugees in Syria. Over 60% of them have been displaced; many of them internally in Syria and tens of thousands have fled to neighbouring countries and beyond. 95% of Palestine refugees remaining in Syria are fully dependent on UNRWA's assistance, while historically they were rather self-sufficient. In Syria you now have another generation of Palestinians undergoing the trauma of lost identity, dispossession and displacement.
What is the situation in Gaza currently like following last summer's conflict?
You have a population that has endured years of Israeli-imposed blockade, which has led to massive unemployment and no freedom of movement. Over 45% of Gazans are unemployed, including 65% of young people. We're essentially talking about a time bomb.
When people have no prospect for a future and have gone through a conflict last summer with 1,500 people killed and 3,000 children injured, you have a set of consequences which are devastating for people.
What should be done to help the estimated 1.3 million refugees in Gaza?
The donors must live up to the pledges made at the Cairo Conference on Palestine [which took place last October], but we also need political action to address the conflict's underlying causes, in particular the occupation and the blockade itself.
How have the recent crises in the Middle East affected UNRWA's financial situation?
With the conflicts in Gaza and Syria and the ongoing occupation, we have more and more people becoming dependent on UNRWA. The pressures on our delivery of services are on the rise. As the region becomes more unstable, with risks for radicalisation, UNRWA is one of the reliable and stable actors in the region.
In June 2014 the EU and UNRWA signed a joint declaration foreseeing an EU contribution of some €246 million up to 2016. What difference do EU contributions make?
The EU's support has been absolutely instrumental but we will continue to approach it to see how this can be further reinforced. Europe is a key actor because of its focus on human rights and its concern for human dignity.
In the period 2007-2013, 57% of the regular UNRWA budget was provided by the EU and its member states. Find out more about UNRWA's partnership with the EU here.
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