Swiss Minister: ‘UN aid agency is part of the problem in the Middle East’

Ignazio Cassis in a helicopter over Jordan
Foreign Affairs Minister Ignazio Cassis heading to Jordan on Monday

(Keystone)

United Nations aid work for Palestinian refugees is a stumbling block to peace in the Middle East, hindering the integration of Palestinians who have lived in Jordan and Lebanon for years, according to Swiss Foreign Affairs Minister Ignazio Cassis.

So long as Palestinians live in refugee camps, they can dream of returning home, he said in an interviewexternal link published in several Swiss newspapers on Thursday.

Five million Palestinian refugees currently live in such camps, with aid and protection provided by the UNRWAexternal link, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.

“It is unrealistic that all of them can fulfil this dream. Yet the UNRWA keeps this dream alive,” Cassis said. “For a long time the UNRWA was the solution to this problem, but today it has become part of the problem. It supplies the ammunition to continue the conflict. By supporting the UNRWA, we keep the conflict alive. It’s a perverse logic.”

He called for the integration of long-term refugees in their countries of residence. Instead of UNRWA schools and hospitals, he said Switzerland could support Jordanian facilities to promote the integration of Palestinian refugees.

Financial crisis

Unlike the United States, Switzerland does not want to significantly reduce or end UNRWA involvement.

“In other cases that’s a good move: if there’s no money, things finally happen,” Cassis said. “But in this case, that’s a big risk: millions of Palestinians could end up on the street. If all nations refused to contribute to the UNRWA, a machinery would collapse that ensures a certain stability. This is a risk that Switzerland can’t afford – perhaps unlike the US.”

The UNRWA was founded in 1949external link following the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict and is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions from UN member states. The Swiss foreign affairs ministry says it is set to pay CHF21.2 million ($21.2 million) for 2018.

The US this year cut its contribution from $360 million to $60 million. “This is our largest funding crisis ever,” said the UNRWA’s Swiss head Pierre Krähenbühl on April 24.

SDA-ATS/ts

1 reply

  1. Yes, we need to look at the UN Palestinian Refugee agency critically and with an open mind. Yes, it is time to ‘think again’ the whole issue of Palestinian refugees. Emphasizing the ‘right to return’ is ok, but it did hinder their integration into the countries of residence, such as Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and others. It is time to think of integration into the societies they live in, thus making the UNWRA irrelevant in those countries. It does not mean that they need to give up their right of return. A Jew has the right of an Israeli passport even though he may be fully integrated in France, USA and elsewhere. Consequently a Palestinian can equally claim the right to return without having to give up the right to integrate where-ever they happen to live.

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