Geneva - Testimonies and complaints received by Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor from Palestinian refugees in the Gaza and North Gaza governorates detail what they describe as the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees’ (UNRWA) abandonment of its role and failed administrative response to Israel’s ongoing evacuation order to those living in the centre and south of the Gaza Strip.
The Geneva-based Euro-Med Monitor raised alarm bells over what could be considered compliance by the UNRWA administration with the Israeli forced displacement plans that violate international humanitarian law and may amount to a war crime.
Euro-Med Monitor stated that the UNRWA administration in the Gaza Strip must commit to fulfilling its responsibility to the Palestinian refugees, and provide them with services in light of the Israeli indiscriminate attacks that are occurring for the third week in a row, regardless of Israel’s position on the matter.
According to Euro-Med Monitor, UNRWA announced on 13 October that its staff working in the Gaza and North Gaza governorates would leave—shortly after the Israeli army warned the residents of the two governorates to evacuate their homes and move to the south of the Gaza Valley without providing safe corridors or alternative shelters.
Thus, UNRWA crews disappeared, and no one is left to follow up on the plight of those who have been displaced and sought shelter with the UN agency. UNRWA has abandoned its humanitarian role, said Euro-Med Monitor, under the pretext of being unable to secure its headquarters.
The UNRWA administration “did not provide us with anything but water, electricity, and some meals, and then its crews suddenly disappeared without prior notice and without taking into consideration the deteriorating conditions in light of the ongoing Israeli bombardment,” Palestinian Muhammad Abu Odeh told the Euro-Med team. Abu Odeh is from the town of Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip, and has been displaced with his family.
Rajaa Saeed, who was displaced with her seven children to a UNRWA shelter in the Gazan town of Tal al-Hawa, told Euro-Med that the UN agency’s employees abandoned their responsibilities. The employees did not communicate with the displaced, Saeed said, despite frequent reports of Israel’s intention to bomb the shelter with the aim of forcibly evacuating it, leaving civilians in a state of panic and deprived of their most basic human needs.
The most recent information provided by UNRWA indicates that approximately 406,000 displaced individuals have sought refuge in 91 UN-run centres. Nevertheless, the UNRWA figures exclude everyone who was relocated to shelter centres in the Gaza and North Gaza governorates, and only include the central regions of Khan Yunis and Rafah.
Euro-Med Monitor said that the UNRWA administration abandoned its legal and humanitarian responsibilities by leaving tens of thousands of displaced people in peril, and ignored the many who sought refuge in its shelter centres by failing to coordinate adequately. The human rights group contended that this constituted an additional factor, in creating an atmosphere of intimidation designed to pressure civilians’ forced evacuation.
Later, UNRWA coordinated the execution of the Israeli request to provide humanitarian aid, which arrived under its supervision from the Egyptian Rafah crossing to the displaced people in the southern Gaza Strip, and neglected those who were still in shelter centres in the Gaza and North Gaza governorates.
Euro-Med emphasised that the UNRWA administration ought to refuse Israeli directives, guarantee the protection of displaced civilians in compliance with international law, and refrain from using humanitarian needs as a form of blackmail or intimidation to coerce vulnerable people into leaving their homes.
UNRWA is in charge of providing health, social, and educational services to approximately 5.7 million Palestinian refugees distributed in refugee camps in Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon, in addition to refugee camps in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Given the Israeli blockade that has been in place on the Strip since 2006, the region’s 1.4 million refugees—more than 60% of the total population—rely on UNRWA’s services.
Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor warned that UNRWA’s significance as an organisation reminds the international community that it bears the responsibility for resolving the Palestinian refugee issue and meeting these refugees’ humanitarian needs, and that protection goes beyond just providing services.
Euro-Med Monitor also emphasised that protecting displaced civilians is a double-edged responsibility for UNRWA and similar international organisations during armed conflicts. An immediate investigation of UNRWA’s senior officials should be opened if these grave responsibilities remain unmet.