Swiss relief expert Philippe Lazzarini appointed UNRWA chief

Lazzarini was recommended to the Palestinian aid agency by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres; former chief stepped down over misconduct probe

Newly appointed UNRWA head Philippe Lazzarini (YouTube screenshot)
Newly appointed UNRWA head Philippe Lazzarini (YouTube screenshot)

Swiss humanitarian relief expert Philippe Lazzarini has been appointed to head the UN agency responsible for aiding Palestinian refugees.

“Mr Lazzarini brings to the position more than thirty years of experience in humanitarian assistance and international coordination in conflict and post-conflict areas,” a UN statement said Wednesday.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had recommended Lazzarini to lead the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) earlier this month.

Lazzarini replaces another Swiss national, Pierre Krahenbuhl, who was forced to resign in November 2019 amid accusations of mismanagement.

Commissioner General for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) Pierre Krahenbuhl speaks during a press conference at the United Nations Information center in Cairo on September 10, 2018 (AFP PHOTO / Khaled DESOUKI)

Born in 1964, Lazzarini has coordinated the work of the United Nations in Lebanon for the past five years. His career has taken him to Somalia, Iraq, Angola and the Palestinian territories. He also has had positions with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Africa, the Balkans and the Middle East.

Founded in 1949, UNRWA runs schools and provides humanitarian aid to millions of Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the Palestinian territories.

It employs 30,000 people, mainly Palestinians, and has an annual budget of $925 million. In December, its mandate was extended until 2023.

A Palestinian woman attends a demonstration outside the outside UNRWA’s Headquarters in Gaza City, August 16, 2015. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

US President Donald Trump’s administration, along with Israel, accuses UNRWA of perpetuating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by extending refugee status to millions of descendants of Palestinians who fled or were forced out of homes in today’s Israel at the time of the establishment of the Jewish state in 1948, rather than limiting refugee status only to the original refugees as is the norm with most refugee populations worldwide.

The United States in 2018 halted its annual contribution of $300 million to UNRWA.

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