Today, the European Union (EU) and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) gathered to celebrate Ramadan and distribute tablets for distance-learning to Palestine refugee students in the Bedouin village of Sateh al-Bahr, east of Jerusalem in the West Bank. The Ramadan iftar launched the EU-led “Education for Life” campaign, marking over fifty years of critical EU support to the Agency’s education programme which successfully serves 533,000 students across the Middle East. Along with several members of the community, the ceremony brought together Director of UNRWA Affairs in the West Bank, Ms. Gwyn Lewis, accompanied by the Chief of the UNRWA Education Programme in the West Bank, Mr. Muawiya Amar, who were joined by the EU Deputy Representative to West Bank and Gaza Strip, Ms. Maria Velasco.
The Sateh al-Bahr Bedouin community is located in Area C of the occupied West Bank, between Jerusalem and Jericho. Many Bedouin communities reside in this area and are at risk of forcible transfer, a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions. Palestine refugees account for an estimated 70% of the Bedouin population in the West Bank. The United Nations has expressed long-standing and serious concerns, reaffirmed by UNRWA, that such threats of demolitions and evictions are contributing to a coercive environment and for those refugees born before 1948, they face the prospect of being displaced from their homes twice in their lifetime. This high-level event and EU presence is particularly meaningful and follows numerous international advocacy campaigns to prevent the demolitions and displacement of the Palestine refugees living around the area.
From Sateh al-Bahr and the neighboring Al Hathroura community, 29 students that attend the UNRWA Aqbat Jabr schools gathered with the European Union and UNRWA along with their families for the Ramadan iftar. The tablets and toys distributed to the students and their families are part of a larger initiative funded by the EU to support students between the ages of 6-15 living in marginalized areas without necessary infrastructure to access remote learning resources. This will include students from low-income families, specific social groups, such as the Bedouin communities, students with medical conditions that put them at high risk of contracting COVID-19 and students with disabilities. This year marks fifty years of partnership with the EU who has been a reliable supporter of education, enabling the Agency to protect the educational rights for Palestine refugees since 1971.
The Director of UNRWA Affairs in the West Bank, Ms. Gwyn Lewis, thanked the generous and unceasing EU support to UNRWA, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, saying that, “UNRWA students are highly successful and this generous donation from the EU means that they are given the tools to excel. This modernizing initiative is hugely important, not only during the COVID-19 pandemic but also through the many challenges Palestine refugee children face under a protracted and unresolved political situation.”
During the event, Ms. Maria Velasco, European Union Deputy Representative, said: “I am happy to join the children, who attend UNRWA schools, and their families in this Ramadani Iftar at this remarkable community, together with our longstanding partners from the UNRWA. This is one of the many interventions that we jointly organise with UNRWA, however this year is special because it marks 50 years of our partnership with UNRWA. The EU has been committed, reliable and sustainable in its support to all Palestinian refugee camps since 1971. This support was particularly very relevant during the current pandemic. Palestine refugees were among those hit the hardest. We should stand together in this global fight against covid-19. Palestine refugees should not be left behind in this fight.”
The EU and UNRWA are determined to jointly contribute to the achievement of the 4th Sustainable Development Goal (SDG4) which aims to ensure that by 2030 all girls and boys around the world receive an inclusive and equitable quality education and promotes lifelong learning opportunities to help break the cycle of poverty. The procurement of tablets complements the ongoing EU-UNRWA “Education for Life” initiative, which speaks to the Agency’s quality, inclusive and equitable education programme, enabled through EU partnership. The tablets will allow students to access the newly launched and innovative iLearn UNRWA digital platform, supporting student learning during the ongoing pandemic and beyond.
EU AND UNRWA: TOGETHER FOR PALESTINE REFUGEES
Since 1971, the European Union and UNRWA have maintained a strategic partnership governed by the shared objective to support the human development, humanitarian and protection needs of Palestine refugees and promote stability in the Middle East. Today, the European Union is the largest multilateral provider of international assistance to Palestine refugees. This reliable and predictable support from the European Union enables UNRWA to provide core services to more than 5.7 million Palestine refugees in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza, including quality education for roughly half a million children and primary health care for more than 3.5 million patients. Collectively, the EU and its Member States are also among the largest contributors to the Agency’s humanitarian emergency appeals and projects in response to various crises and specific needs across the region. The partnership between the European Union and UNRWA has allowed millions of Palestine refugees to be better educated, live healthier lives, access employment opportunities and improve their living conditions, thus contributing to the development of the entire region.