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Lean times Another Swiss appointed to lead UN agency for Palestinian refugees


Lazzarini has 30 years of experience in humanitarian assistance.

(© Keystone / Martial Trezzini)

Swiss humanitarian expert Philippe Lazzarini has been selected to head up the embattled United Nations (UN) agency responsible for aid to Palestinian refugees.

On Wednesday, the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres announced that he would be handing over the reins of UNRWA to Lazzarini who is currently the UN humanitarian chief for Lebanon.

Lazzarini will replace compatriot Pierre Krahenbuhl, who resigned in November after accusations of mismanagement. An internal UN investigation revealed concerns about allegations of possible sexual misconduct, nepotism and other abuses of authority at the agency.

Lazzarini has worked for more than 30 years in humanitarian assistance including coordinating international efforts in conflict and post-conflict situations for the UN and the International Committee for the Red Cross, among others. He has worked in several conflict regions including Somalia, Iraq, Angola and in the Palestinian Territories. 

Cash strapped

UNRWA was established to aid the 700,000 Palestinians who fled or were forced from their homes, as well as their descendants. It provides basic needs and services to 5.5 million refugees and families in the West Bank and Gaza Strip as well as Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.

Since the US cut off funding to the UNRWA, the organisation has been under significant financial strain. The U.S. gave $360 million to the agency in 2017, but only $60 million in 2018 and nothing in 2019.

Last July, the Swiss foreign ministry decided to temporarily stop payments to UNRWA amid the claims of misconduct among its top management. The ministry resumed payments in December.


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