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UNRWA says ultimatum to defer school year stands unless deficit fully covered

By Laila Azzeh - Aug 12,2015 - Last updated at Aug 12,2015

UNRWA workers and supporters rally in Wihdat, Amman, against expected cuts in the agency’s services (JT photo)

AMMAN — A state of anticipation is sweeping Jordan over the fate of 120,000 UNRWA students as the ultimatum given by the agency to donors before deciding whether to delay the upcoming scholastic year or not is about to end. 

The relief organisation, the only entity dedicated to serve Palestinian refugees, has reached a chronic financial crisis that might jeopardise its role as a safety network for some five-million refugees, suffering around a $101 million budget deficit.

To this end, UNRWA earlier this month gave donors an ultimatum until mid-August before deciding the fate of the coming academic year. 

"Till this week, the agency has not received the required amount. UNRWA needs the complete sum of the deficit in order to start the scholastic year," UNRWA Spokesperson Sami Mshasha told The Jordan Times on Wednesday from Jerusalem. 

"If we do not receive the money, we will take tough decisions in relation to our educational services," he noted, adding that Saudi Arabia recently donated $35 million to UNRWA, of which $19 million will go to the budget deficit and $16 million to the health clinics in Gaza and the West Bank. 

"We received some pledges from donors, but until this date, we have not received the total $101 million," Mshasha said.

UNRWA's dilemma is being featured high in the meetings of the government and parliament lately, with officials saying that public schools cannot "absorb an new students whether from UNRWA schools or Syrian students not yet enrolled".

The government has reiterated on several occasions that it is the responsibility of donor countries to handle such a crisis as well as help UNRWA overcome its financial difficulties. 

“Jordan cannot bear more burdens. There are 130,000 Syrian students in our public schools and 120,000 Palestinian refugees in UNRWA-run schools,” said the government recently.  

Around 5,000 UNRWA educators out of the 22,000 employed in the agency’s five operation areas are in Jordan.

Wednesday witnessed another sit-in by the agency's employees in Jordan, this time with the participation of the Jordan Teachers Association (JTA), whose president said that the decision to cut UNRWA's services is "purely political". 

JTA President Hussan Masheh warned of the consequences of postponing or closing-down UNRWA schools. 

“A total of 5,000 are threatened to be jobless anytime soon…this would be tampering with the rights of students in education, which is a red line,” he underlined. 

Meanwhile, the head of the Senate’s Palestine Committee, Wajih Azaizeh warned against “transforming the issue of UNRWA’s budget deficit into an internal problem. This  is an international issue and should remain so.”

 

“The Jordanian stand at the government, parliamentary and public levels should remain unified in supporting the demands of the relief agency,” he said in a press statement run by the Jordan News Agency, Petra.

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