The secretary-general of the United Nations has appointed Philippe Lazzarini to head UNRWA, the agency tasked with attending to the needs of some 5 million Palestinian refugees scattered primarily across the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Lebanon and Syria. “Mr. Lazzarini brings to the position more than 30 years of experience in humanitarian assistance and international coordination in conflict and post-conflict areas,” said a statement released on behalf of Antonio Guterres. The Swiss-born Lazzarini has for the past five years coordinated the UN’s work out of Beirut, and prior to that held senior positions with the International Committee of the Red Cross. He replaces Pierre Krahenbuhl, who was forced to resign in November amid accusations of corruption and mismanagement. UNRWA employs some 30,000 people – mainly Palestinians – and has an annual budget of nearly $1 billion. Its mandate was recently extended until 2023 despite accusations by Israel that the organization serves to perpetuate the refugee crisis and has been infiltrated by members of Hamas. US President Donald Trump has halted $300 million in annual assistance to UNRWA over similar claims. Palestinians are unique in that their refugee status is passed down from generation to generation. They also have an exclusive agency separate from that overseen by the UN’s high commissioner for refugees (UNHCR), which deals with all other refugees worldwide. It is estimated that there are fewer than 50,000 living Palestinians who were displaced during the war following Israel’s creation in 1948.
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