December 5, 2018
The message “no child is left behind” is written on a wall at a Palestine refugee camp in Irbid, northern Jordan. 
Palestine refugees account for more than a quarter of the world’s 20 million refugees. In September, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) held an international conference to discuss how to assist these refugees in the areas of education, health and medicine. This conference was held in the United States at the Headquarters of the United Nations in New York City. Japanese Minister of Foreign Affairs Taro Kono served as co-chairperson.
JICA has been advancing a Mother and Child Health Handbook project in Palestine refugee camps in Palestine, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, and is working to improve the livelihoods of the people in those camps. In addition, JICA volunteers have been dispatched to schools operated by UNRWA. Here we will present JICA's support to Palestine refugees in cooperation with UNRWA.
Approximately 70 years ago, many Palestinians became refugees as a result of the establishment of the state of Israel and the ensuing 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Those separated from their homes and their descendants have made no progress in returning. These people are referred to as Palestine refugees.
A Palestine refugee camp in Amman, Jordan. Because many years have passed since its establishment, it has the appearance of a city.
UNRWA was established in 1949. From 1950, it has been engaged in humanitarian work in areas including education, medicine, health, relief aid and welfare. It operates approximately 700 elementary and preparatory schools accommodating a total of around 500,000 children and students. It also operates approximately 140 health centers. It has approximately 30,000 employees including teachers and medical staff.
Since 2000, JICA has dispatched JICA volunteers to Jordan, Syria and other locations. These volunteers manage undertakings in areas including physical education, art and music. In August 2011, UNRWA and JICA concluded a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to strengthen their cooperation and to increase the effectiveness of aid implementation.
Ms. Misumi instructing students at a UNRWA-operated school. (Center)
Ms. Kozue Misumi was an active physical education volunteer under the Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers program at UNRWA schools in Syria from September 2010 to spring 2011, and in Jordan from August 2011 to January 2013. The changes in the children that came about through their playing dodgeball and jumping rope using a long rope left an impression on Ms. Misumi.
“In the beginning, winning was the most important thing. They didn’t take turns, and when they lost, they wouldn’t accept the result, and would criticize their teammates and opponents. In about two months, they began to express to one another a desire to adhere to the rules.”
Children attending a physical fitness class. We understand the children came to discuss strategy during dodgeball practice.
Ms. Misumi encouraged the children to shake hands before and after dodgeball games, and worked to ensure children that could not jump well using the long had turns to practice. Through cooperation the children learned to feel a sense of accomplishment, and began to form lines to wait their turns.
As of the end of September 2018, JICA volunteers are working at six UNRWA facilities in Jordan.
Aiming for independence, this Palestine refugee woman receives support in manufacturing perfumes and creams.
As the Palestine refugee issue extends into the long term, JICA is endeavoring to improve the livelihoods of refugees in close cooperation with UNRWA.
Since 2006, JICA has implemented vocational training and entrepreneurial assistance to women living in camps located in Jordan. Since 2009, JICA has been developing activities to broaden understanding of women in the workforce.
Since 2016, JICA has implemented the Refugee Camp Improvement Project in Palestine. Using a community participatory approach, JICA is supporting Palestinians' efforts to create and implement plans to improve the living conditions of the community as a whole.
UNRWA is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions, mostly from government donors. Osamu Hattori, who worked for UNRWA from July 2015 to July 2017 on secondment from JICA, had tried to increase the awareness of the Palestine refugee issue and to strengthen the partnership between Japan and UNRWA.
The delegations and visitors from Japan had various opportunities to visit UNRWA schools and health clinics and to see the reality of Palestine refugees through their visit. Those experiences deepened their understanding of the Palestine refugee issue as they saw the daily life of Palestine refugees. They were impressed that Palestine refugees always have tried to live positively to overcome their prolonged plight to the best of their ability.
In 2015, a UNRWA delegation headed by Commissioner-General Pierre Krahenbuhl, which included three children from Gaza, visited Japan. The three children are from the UNRWA school in Gaza, and it was their first time in Japan. Their visit was made possible by the cooperation of RESULTS Japan, a Japanese advocacy NGO. The delegation visited Kamaishi city, Iwate Prefecture, which was affected by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and the tsunami, and engaged in an exchange program with local children there. They flew a kite to symbolize hope and commemorate the recovery from devastating disasters in both Gaza and Kamaishi. Through the program, the children encouraged one another to work toward the reconstruction of their areas.
Local junior high school students and Gaza junior high school students participate in exchange in Kamaishi City, Iwate Prefecture.
Mr. Hattori never forget something one of the children said:
“This is the first time I’ve been able to run around outside without fear.”
The children’s visit was widely covered within Japan, and contributed to increasing the recognition of the Palestine refugee issue in Japan.
Given these difficult conditions, Mr. Hattori emphasized: “I hope that more Japanese people learn about the Palestine refugees and the Palestine refugee issue. … We have to seriously consider the fact that Palestine refugee children's right to and opportunity for education should be ensured.”
JICA plans to continue cooperating with UNRWA in the future to provide assistance to Palestine refugees and refugee host countries.