Switzerland has been supporting UNRWA since its creation in the 1950s. For the current period (2017–20), Switzerland's funding has amounted to approximately CHF 20 million each year. In 2005, Switzerland joined UNRWA's Advisory Committee and has been part of the debate on organisational reform since then. The organisation has been the subject of political controversy since it was founded. The Federal Council's report, which was drawn up in response to the Nantermod postulate (18.3557), addresses UNRWA's historical development, its partnership with Switzerland, and the criticism that has been levelled against the aid agency.
UNRWA has grown significantly
The history of the aid agency is closely entwined with the conflict in the Middle East, which remains intractable to this day. Because of this, UNRWA's mandate and scope of activities have continually changed since the 1950s. After its initial focus on humanitarian aid, UNRWA started to take on quasi-governmental tasks in such areas as health and education. The aid agency currently employs over 27,000 people, and runs more than 700 schools and 140 health centres. Over 5.6 million Palestinian refugees are registered with UNRWA. The organisation has an annual budget of around CHF 1.3 billion. The report analyses the hallmarks of the aid agency that are rooted in its historical context: its special mandate outside of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), its separate definition of refugee eligibility, the UN resolution on the right of return as its reference point, and its role as a service provider with a significant field presence unlike other UN agencies.
Switzerland's commitment to a solution in the Middle East
UNRWA operates in the midst of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a highly politicised environment. The aid agency has been accused of adopting a role that is too political. Another issue is UNWRA's registration of the descendants of Palestinian refugees, which increases the overall refugee population. The Federal Council addresses these and other critical questions in its report. Although the criticism directed at UNRWA is often tied to the political context, there are well-founded reasons in some cases. The fact that a growing refugee population necessitates increasing costs, for example, is an unwelcome situation. However, the Federal Council maintains that the question of Palestinian refugees must be settled within the framework of a comprehensive negotiation agreement for a durable solution. Switzerland remains committed to ending the conflict in the Middle East.
In its report, the Federal Council states that UNRWA's mandate is as relevant as before and that the organisation contributes to regional stability. In line with the new Middle East and North Africa (MENA) strategy 2021–24, which was also adopted by the Federal Council at its meeting today, Switzerland will focus on working closely with UNRWA to support the reforms the organisation has initiated in order to strengthen internal governance.
In 2019, the UN General Assembly renewed UNRWA's mandate for a further three years until 2023. Decisions on future Swiss funding for UNRWA will be made by the Federal Council by the end of the year.
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