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UNRWA acquired only 25% of its $1.6 billion funding needs for 2023 

UNRWA staff, Palestine refugees ‘should not live in limbo’, says commissioner

By Mays Ibrahim Mustafa - May 22,2023 - Last updated at May 22,2023

UNRWA’s 'fully-fledged' education system, made up of over 700 schools, provides education to over half a million children, the UN agency said in a statement (Photo courtesy of UNRWA website)

AMMAN — The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) has received less than 25 per cent, or $364 million, of the $1.6 billion needed for its 2023 financial requirements, according to the agency’s website.

Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), Philippe Lazzarini, attended the Arab League Summit in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, held on May 19.  

According to a statement issued by UNRWA, the Commissioner-General called on the wealthy Arab states to increase their financial support to the agency, as it struggles to deliver “critical” services to the Palestine Refugees.

“Support to Palestine Refugees is a collective obligation, including from Arab countries. Longtime historic partners have decreased their funding in the last few years, dramatically affecting our ability to maintain quality services, including education, health care and social protection…,” said Lazzarini. 

“While we are one of the largest UN agencies in the world, we live hand to mouth. At the end of every month, we often are uncertain whether we can pay salaries to our nearly 30,000 staff. UNRWA staff is the backbone and the engine of the agency’s basic services: Teachers, medical workers, engineers and logisticians. They should not live in constant uncertainty and limbo, and neither should the Palestine refugees they serve,” he added. 

UNRWA is currently appealing for $1.3 billion to support its operations across Syria, Lebanon, the West Bank (including East Jerusalem), the Gaza Strip and Jordan.

A recent statement issued on its website said that “the plight of Palestine refugees is the longest unresolved refugee crisis in the world today”.

With some 5.9 million Palestine refugees currently eligible for its services, UNRWA has been dealing with a “chronic” funding shortfall for the last decade, starting 2023 with $75 million worth of debt carried over from 2022, the statement added.

“Over the years, the agency has put in place several measures to utilise the very little financial contributions it received from donors, tightening its overall spending and improving its efficiency and cost control,” it continued.

UNRWA’s “fully-fledged” education system, made up of over 700 schools, provides education to over half a million children and, in 2022 alone, the agency’s health centres provided 7.9 million health consultations for refugees across its five fields of operation in the region, according to the statement.

Speaking with The Jordan Times, Ahmad Awad, an expert in social and economic human rights, agreed that the chronic funding shortfalls are eroding the agency’s ability to provide critical services for Palestinian refugees in the region. 

He also pointed out that the size of financial donations to UNRWA has been “outpaced” by the large growth in the needs and numbers of Palestinian refugees.

“Global financial pressures, such as food inflation, unemployment and rising poverty rates, have increased Palestinian refugees’ reliance on aid,” said Awad.

He added that because the agency is almost entirely reliant on voluntary contributions, and not on the UN’s regular budget, its funding is particularly vulnerable to economic and political fluctuations. 

Although US aid to UNRWA resumed under the Biden administration, it was entirely cut under the Trump administration budget starting in 2018. Moreover, other humanitarian crises, such as the Russia-Ukraine conflict, have also impacted the amount of funding directed towards supporting UNRWA, Awad noted. 

He also stressed that supporting the agency’s mission in Jordan and elsewhere is a global responsibility.

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