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#Unrwa - MEPs debate US decision to cut funding for UN agency for Palestinian refugees

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Photo by EU-ECHO on Flickr CC/BY/NC/ND The US decision to cut funding for Unrwa was debated by MEPs on 2 October. Photo by EU-ECHO on Flickr CC/BY/NC/ND 

The recent US decision to end all funding for Unrwa, the UN’s agency for Palestinian refugees, was widely condemned in a debate in Parliament last week.

Describing it as “irredeemably flawed”, the United States announced on 31 August it would end all funding for Unrwa, the UN agency for Palestine refugees. During the plenary debate, European Commissioner Johannes Hahn said: “Without Unrwa and the prospect of a two-state solution, there would just be chaos and violence for both the Israeli and Palestinian people."

Established in 1949 to take care of Palestinians displaced by the Arab-Israeli war, Unrwa provides essential services for some five million Palestine refugees in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

The US decision was widely denounced by MEPs. GUE/NGL member and chair of Parliament’s Palestine delegation Neoklis Sylikiotis said: “There are five million refugees who are now suffering because of the US cuts. Eighty per cent of the people of Gaza depend entirely on Unrwa support.”

EPP member José Ignacio Salafranca Sánchez-Neyra said: “This is affecting more than 5.5 million men, women and children whom we can't simply ignore.”

'Strong, reliable and predictable'

During the plenary debate, Commissioner Hahn said the EU would continue to be “strong, reliable and predictable supporters of the agency”. He referred to the €40 million in additional EU funding for Unrwa announced at the UN general assembly on 27 September. The EU and its member states already provide almost half of the agency’s budget and the overall EU contribution amounts to some €1.2 billion over the past three years.

What is Unrwa? 
  • Following the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees was established by the UN General Assembly  
  • In the absence of a solution to the Palestine refugee problem, the General Assembly has repeatedly renewed Unrwa's mandate 
  • When the agency began operations in 1950, it was responding to the needs of about 750,000 Palestine refugees. Today, some five million Palestine refugees are eligible for Unrwa services 
  • Every day about 500,000 children receive an education in 702 Unrwa schools 
  • Every year Unrwa medical staff handle more than nine million patient visits 

'The one who buried the two-state solution'

ALDE MEP Hilde Vautmans asked whether Donald Trump would “go down in history as the one who buried the two-state solution” and said that "it is central for the future of the Palestinian state that we continue to support Unrwa”.

S&D member Elena Valenciano said that the US decision would end up creating more hatred and more disaffection: "It's trying to make a two-state solution impossible and ensure that young Palestinians feel more and more abandoned.”

Rosa D'Amato (EFDD) said: “There has been European support to four generations of Palestinian refugees. In Unrwa’s governance there surely is room for improvement, but I think the US cuts are anything but productive in terms of peace in the Middle East.”

On behalf of the Greens/EFA, Margrete Auken spoke of Unrwa’s “fantastic work”. Referring to “Israel’s systematic challenging of international law”, the vice-chair of Parliament’s Palestine delegation asked: “What is the EU’s response? Some worried mumblings and a few extra euro.”

'A major opportunity'

ECR member Bas Belder, vice-chair of Parliament’s Israel delegation, was of the view, however, that the US decision gives “the international community a major opportunity to change and introduce new rational criteria for Palestinian refugees”. He spoke of Unrwa’s “major deficits” and urged the EU to “support Washington in its wake-up call to the Palestinian leadership”.

German ENF MEP Marcus Pretzell said: “It's an absolute scandal that the German government has offered to replace a large part of the US funding to Unrwa. We should be closing this institution and cancelling all of its resources.”

In a resolution adopted by MEPs on 8 February 2018, Parliament applauded Unrwa for its “extraordinary efforts” and expressed concern that any reduction or delays in funding could result in “damaging impacts on access to emergency food assistance for 1.7 million Palestine refugees and primary healthcare for three million, and on access to education for more than 500,000 Palestinian children”.

Click here for more information on Parliament’s role in the Middle East peace process.

coronavirus

Update: Co-operation under the microscope in COVID-19 crisis – EAPM EU Presidency Conference report available

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As coronavirus infections soar across the planet, and the death toll rises everywhere, not least in Europe, many are asking why European Union member states were so disconnected from each other strategy-wise, and what the EU can do about improving co-ordination this second time round, writes European Alliance for Personalised Medicine (EAPM) Executive Director Denis Horgan. 

Well, given that health care is a jealously guarded member state competence, locking-down the answer isn’t easy, and never has been. But that doesn’t help Europe’s citizenry, given that COVID-19 is no respecter of borders and national sovereignty. 

This was one of a myriad discussion items discussed in our recent virtual Presidency Conference entitled ‘Ensuring access to innovation and data-rich biomarker space to speed better quality of care for citizens’. You can read the report here.

As highlighted during the Presidency Conference, there is potential future promise in the European policy context, with the legislative and policy initiatives currently on the EU agenda – most recently – the declaration of Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in favour of European Health Union which was discussed during the conference. 

EAPM has always argued for more EU-wide co-operation and coordination in health care, and the current crisis has only made that need more obvious. 

Indeed, for the best part of a decade,  the Alliance has been calling for policies to tackle diseases of many different types - not least cancer - through new science and personalised healthcare, with the backing of many MEPs.

It is apt that throughout the topic-specific discussions of the Presidency Conference, the broader themes that emerged most insistently were collaboration and communication, since these have been the hallmarks of EAPM’s activity since its initiation. 

EAPM is by definition a collaborative exercise, bringing together the broadest range of stakeholders – as this conference again demonstrated. And communication has been at the heart of EAPM’s activity, since its role is not just as a thinktank for refining ideas, but as a vehicle for transmitting those ideas from the world of healthcare to the broader world of policy, where the decisions are made that ultimately shape the way health is delivered. 

Principal recommendations 

Although there was no formal process of agreeing recommendations at the meeting, the following are among the recurring recommendations from the discussions. 

  • Inequalities in access to testing and treatment across Europe must be addressed

  • Adequate data infrastructure and processing capacity must be available.

  • Real-world evidence must be developed and acceptance criteria agreed with regulators, HTA agencies and payers.

  • Greater flexibility in regulatory requirements is needed to accommodate evaluation of products destined for small populations.

  • Multi-stakeholder collaboration must be developed to agree research priorities, standards and quality assurance of testing, and evaluation criteria for testing and treatments.

  • Trust must be developed among citizens about the security and possible  use of their data.

  • Communication must be developed by healthcare stakeholders to persuade policymakers to effect constructive change.  

The link to the report is available here.

1 million genome meeting on 21 October

Registration is still very much open for the B1MG meeting on 21 October. The aim of the the 1 million Genome Project is to support the connection of national genomics and data infrastructures, co-ordinate the harmonization of the ethical and legal framework for sharing data of high privacy sensitivity, and give practical guidance for the pan-European coordination of implementing genomic technologies in national and European health-care systems. 

Thus, the B1MG is a means to bring the different stakeholders together on Oct 21st so as to act as a catalyst to provide a benchmark approach for alignment of complex, fractionated health-care provisions into health-care systems.

Register here and read the full agenda here.

Have the best week possible, and keep safe.

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Brexit

We’re disappointed by EU but a deal can be done, says Raab

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Britain is disappointed by the European Union’s demand that London give more concessions to secure a trade deal but a deal is close and can be done, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said on Friday (16 October), write Guy Faulconbridge and Paul Sandle.

“We are disappointed and surprised by the outcome of the European Council,” Raab told Sky News.

“We’ve been told that it must be the UK that makes all of the compromises in the days ahead, that can’t be right in a negotiation, so we’re surprised by that but the prime minister will be saying more on this later today.”

“Having said that, we are close,” Raab said of a deal. “With goodwill on both sides we can get there.”

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coronavirus

France reports more than 25,000 new coronavirus infections in past 24 hours

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A doctor, wearing a protective mask and a protective suit, works in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) where patients suffering from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) are treated at the Bethune-Beuvry hospital in Beuvry, France. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

The French health ministry reported 25,086 new confirmed coronavirus cases in 24 hours on Friday (16 October), after reporting a record 30,621 on Thursday (15 October), writes Geert De Clercq in Paris.

It also reported that 122 people had died from coronavirus infection in hospitals in the past 24 hours, compared with 88 on Thursday. Including deaths in retirement homes - which are often reported in multi-day batches - the death toll increased by 178 on Friday.

The total number of infections since the start of the year now stands at 834,770, the cumulative number of dead at 33,303.

The number of people in hospital with COVID-19 rose by 437 to 10,042, exceeding 10,000 for the first time since mid-June, and the number of people in intensive care rose by 50 to 1,800, a level last seen in mid-May.

In the past seven days, France has registered nearly 14,800 new coronavirus infections, which is more than the 132,430 registered during the entire two-month lockdown from mid-March to mid-May.

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