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Stockholm talks call for renewing financial, political commitment to UNRWA

Safadi, Swedish counterpart host dialogue over bridging agency’s $200m funding gap

By JT - Apr 13,2019 - Last updated at Apr 13,2019

Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi and his Swedish counterpart Margot Wallström pose for a group photo with UNRWA Commissioner General Pierre Krähenbühl and participants in a strategic dialogue on the agency in Stockholm on Friday (Photo courtesy of Foreign Ministry)

AMMAN — Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi and his Swedish counterpart Margot Wallström on Friday hosted a ministerial strategic dialogue in Stockholm to discuss sustainable ways to support the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). 

In remarks during the meeting, Safadi stressed that UNRWA must continue to operate in fulfilment of its UN mandate until a durable and just solution to the refugee issue is found in accordance with relevant UN resolutions, including resolution 194, and within the context of a comprehensive solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict on the basis of the two-state solution.

Friday’s meeting was aimed at agreeing an action plan to mobilise the international community’s efforts to bridge UNRWA’s 2019 funding gap, which stands at $200 million, in addition to finding long-term financial plans for the agency and building on its initiative to enhance efficiency.

UNRWA Commissioner General Pierre Krähenbühl reviewed during the talks, in which representatives from Egypt, France, Germany, Japan, Kuwait, Norway, the UK, the European External Action Service and the European Commission took part, the agency’s continued programmes to assist over 5 million Palestinian refugees despite the financial challenges facing the UNRWA, a joint communiqué issued following the talks said.

Participants stressed during the talks that UNRWA’s programmes are a critical component for regional development, stability and security in the interest of all. 

They emphasised the importance of these programmes in offering protection and vital development support to over 5.4 million Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem and Gaza.

The representatives expressed appreciation for all partners who helped the agency to overcome its budget deficit last year, thus ensuring that UNRWA was able to maintain the educational, health, relief and key development services to refugees, according to the communiqué.

The session renewed the call for an international commitment for 2019, which will show once again that political and financial support is key to regional and international stability. 

“UNRWA serves such an important objective through sustaining hope among Palestine refugees by running schools for over half-a- million boys and girls, 8.5 million primary healthcare consultations and life-saving emergency assistance to 1.5 million Palestinian refugees affected by conflict and humanitarian crisis, particularly in Gaza and Syria,” the statement stressed. 

Concrete measures could be taken to raise international awareness about UNRWA’s vital role and operations, including in regional groups and high-level international meetings, were also discussed.

The diplomats agreed to invite all donors to actively support UNRWA, notably through multi-year financial commitment and core financing, to help the agency bridge the 2019 funding gap and ensure sustainable financial support in 2020 and beyond. 

High-level events, such as a slated pledging conference in New York in June, and an extraordinary ministerial event at the UN General Assembly opening session in September, should urge partners to step up their commitment to the well-being of Palestine refugees and to their human development, primarily by ensuring that all UNRWA programmes continue uninterrupted, the talks reiterated.

Jordan’s efforts last year, in cooperation with Sweden, the EU and other countries, have led to narrowing the agency’s funding gap for 2018 from $446 million to less than $20 million.

The US, which was by far the biggest contributor to UNRWA, announced last year that it would no longer fund the agency, causing a funding crisis for the agency and risking its operations that cover Palestinian refugees mainly residing in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, and provides educational, social and health services to some 5.4 million refugees.

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