| 19 May 2024, Sunday |

UN agency for Palestinian refugees faces funding crisis

The president of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees warned Tuesday that it will be unable to pay its 28,000 staff on time this month due to a serious financing shortfall, threatening millions of people with service cuts in the midst of a worldwide epidemic.

UNRWA operates schools, clinics, and food distribution programs for millions of registered Palestinian refugees across the Middle East, the majority of whom are the descendants of Palestinians who fled or were pushed out of what is now Israel during the 1948 conflict that preceded its establishment.

The majority of the 5.7 million refugees dwell in camps that have been converted into built-up but frequently destitute residential districts in Israel-occupied West Bank, east Jerusalem, and Gaza, as well as Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon.

UNRWA Executive Director Philippe Lazzarini told reporters in Jordan that the return of US financing for the organization this year, which had been delayed by the Trump administration, was offset by a fall in money from other donors.

In addition, the agency had a management crisis in 2019, when its previous director resigned over claims of sexual misconduct, nepotism, and other abuses of authority within the agency.

Staff went on strike Monday after learning last week that their payments would be delayed, but the walkout was called off after mediation, according to Lazzarini.

“If UNRWA’s health services are jeopardized in the midst of a worldwide epidemic, the COVID-19 immunization deployment will be halted.” “Maternal and childcare services will be suspended, half a million girls and boys will be unsure if they will be able to complete their education, and over two million of the poorest Palestinian refugees would be denied financial and food support,” he warned.

“The humanitarian needs of Palestinian refugees continue to rise, but financing to the agency has remained stagnant since 2013.”

Lazzarini stated that at a recent meeting in Brussels, the organization received enough donations to cover up to 48 percent of its budget in 2022 and 2023. It also contributed $60 million toward a $100 million gap needed to keep services running until the end of the year.

“I’m still not in a position to predict when November pay will be paid,” he explained.

Critics of UNRWA, particularly Israel, accuse it of prolonging the 73-year-old refugee situation and argue that host countries should bear the responsibility of accepting them.

The Palestinians argue that refugees and their descendants have a “right of return” to their homes in what is now Israel, and host nations agree. Israel opposes this, pointing out that if such a right were completely implemented, it would leave the country with a Palestinian majority.

  • Associated Press