In this June 15, 2014 photo, then United Nations humanitarian coordinator in Somalia Philippe Lazzarini speaks during a press conference in Mogadishu. (MOHAMED ABDIWAHAB / AFP)
UNITED NATIONS — UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday appointed Swiss humanitarian expert Philippe Lazzarini to head the beleaguered UN agency for Palestinian refugees, which has faced a financial crisis following a cutoff in US funding and a crisis of confidence after its previous leader was accused of abusing his authority.
Philippe Lazzarini will replace former UNRWA commissioner-general Pierre Krahenbuhl, who resigned in November following an internal UN investigation that raised “management issues”
Guterres made the announcement following consultations with the Advisory Commission of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
He said Lazzarini has more than 30 years’ experience in delivering humanitarian assistance and coordinating international efforts in conflict and post-conflict situations for the United Nations, the international committee for the Red Cross, and the private sector. He is currently the UN humanitarian chief for Lebanon.
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Lazzarini will replace former UNRWA commissioner-general Pierre Krahenbuhl, who resigned in November following an internal UN investigation that raised “management issues”, reflecting concerns over allegations of possible sexual misconduct, nepotism and other abuses of authority at the agency.
Those allegations, in a confidential UN ethics office report, came amid an unprecedented financial crisis for the agency, sparked by the loss of all funding from the United States, its largest donor.
US President Donald Trump said in january 2018 that the Palestinians must return to peace talks with Israel to receive US aid money — an announcement that led leaders of 21 international humanitarian groups to strongly criticize the Trump administration for linking aid and political objectives, calling it “dangerous”. The US gave US$360 million to the UNRWA in 2017, but only US$60 million in 2018, and nothing last year or so far this year.
The agency was established to aid the 700,000 Palestinians who fled or were forced from their homes during the war surrounding Israel’s establishment in 1948. It now provides education, healthcare, food and other services to 5.5 million refugees, their children and grandchildren in the West Bank and Gaza Strip as well as in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.
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Lazzarini joined the United Nations in 2003 and has served in various posts in the UN humanitarian office. He earlier was head of marketing for the Union Bancaire Privee in Geneva and served for 10 years with the International Committee of the Red Cross as deputy head of communication, head of its delegations in Rwanda, Angola and Sarajevo, and as an ICRC delegate in southern Sudan, Jordan, Gaza and Beirut.
Dujarric said the secretary-general expressed gratitude to acting UNRWA chief Christian Saunders of Britain, who will continue to serve until Lazzarini starts his new job. No date was given.
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