UN chief chooses Swiss diplomat to head UNRWA

Arab report: Philippe Lazzarini to serve as next commissioner-general of UN agency for “Palestinian refugees”.

Elad Benari ,

UNRWA school in eastern Jerusalem
UNRWA school in eastern Jerusalem

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has named Swiss diplomat Philippe Lazzarini as the next commissioner-general of UNRWA, the UN agency for “Palestinian refugees”, sources told the Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper on Wednesday.

A senior diplomat at the Security Council told the newspaper that the selection was decided on Monday, explaining that the appointment file was referred to the UNRWA Advisory Committee.

Lazzarini has served in the past as the UN deputy special coordinator for Lebanon and has extensive experience in humanitarian assistance and international coordination in conflict and post-conflict areas.

He has served as deputy to the Special Representative for the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia, as well as a resident representative and humanitarian coordinator.

Before joining the United Nations in 2003, Lazzarini headed the marketing department of a private bank in Geneva. He also worked for 10 years with the ICRC as deputy head of communications, head of the ICRC delegation in Rwanda, Angola and Sarajevo, and an ICRC delegate in South Sudan, Jordan, Gaza, and Beirut.

UNRWA’s previous commissioner-general, Pierre Krahenbuhl, was ousted last year amid allegations of "serious ethical abuses" by the management in a UN ethics report. He was replaced temporarily by Christian Saunders.

The US, which was previously UNRWA's largest contributor, cut a full $300 million in funding to the agency in 2018, leaving it strapped for cash and asking other countries to help fill the gap.

Saunders said recently that UNRWA is facing the worst financial crisis in its history and has a budget deficit of $332 million.

In addition to the accusations of misappropriation, UNRWA is also notorious for its anti-Israel activities. During the 2014 counterterrorism Operation Protective Edge, Hamas rockets were discovered inside a school building run by UNRWA.

Likewise, a booby-trapped UNRWA clinic was detonated, killing three IDF soldiers. Aside from the massive amounts of explosives hidden in the walls of the clinic, it was revealed that it stood on top of dozens of terror tunnels, showing how UNRWA is closely embedded with Hamas.