Despite UNRWA donor pledges, agency still woefully underfunded

$100m still needed for rest of 2021, says FM

A general view of a Palestinian refugee camp in Baqaa, on April 29, 2019. (Photo: Jordan News)
AMMAN — An international donor conference held in Brussels to secure urgently needed funds for the financially troubled UNRWA has managed to raise $614 million in pledges over multiple years, according to the agency’s director of strategic communication, Tamara Al-Rifai, who was speaking to Al-Mamlaka TV on Tuesday.اضافة اعلان

Earlier in the day, the agency secured $38 million in pledges for this year, but co-chair of the meeting, Foreign Minister Ayman Al-Safadi, said that the shortfall for the remainder of November and December stands at $100 million, which would be needed to cover funding for Palestinian refugees along with staff salaries.

Drastic budget cuts to UNRWA have left the UN body “on the edge of collapse,” Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini told the donor conference. The agency’s relief work affects the lives of over 5.7 million Palestinian refugees in four countries and areas. Representatives from 61 international organizations and 29 government officials attended the meeting. The agency is funded almost completely by member-states with a base annual budget of $800 million, with Lazzarini affirming that “it is not possible to operate with less than that.”

Following an indication by agency officials that they may be forced to take “special leave” without pay, UNRWA employees staged a protest in Amman earlier this month.

The US has been UNRWA's biggest donor since its establishment in 1949, but a freeze of funds by former President Donald Trump in 2018 hit the agency hard pushing other member-states to fill in the deficit.
The UK, the third-largest donor in 2020, also cut funding by over 50 percent this year due to economic austerity.

A significant reduction of subsidies from the Gulf countries has thrown the agency further into danger of ruin. In 2021, Gulf Arab states contributed $20 million to the organization, a tenfold decrease from its contribution of $200 million in 2018.

The US decision to resume funding of the agency earlier this year made the job much easier, said Safadi, which he expects will lead to multiyear planning. The agency is now collaborating with Sweden, co-chair of the meeting, to develop a three-year budget that will provide enough time to determine the agency’s needs and gaps, as well as ensure the institution’s sustainability and ability to continue “offering the dignified living that Palestinian refugees deserve,” Safadi said.

He also stressed the importance of burden-sharing as a key concept that must be established within the international community.

"The uncertainty that this situation is creating is extremely painful for the agency, for its ability to deliver its services, and for the people it serves,” he added. “It is unsustainable that every year, come June, we start wondering whether schools are going to open or not, ... whether 260,000 kids in Gaza will go to schools, or will be denied that right. It is unsustainable that every month UNRWA staff are wondering whether they’re going to be receiving their salaries or not,” he added.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who also attended the conference, spoke about the vital role the agency plays in the lives of generations of Palestinian refugees, and its pivotal role in promoting regional stability. He stressed that although countries have agreed to the UN mandate given to UNRWA, the agency is still facing an existential crisis, calling for providing adequate, sustainable and predictable funding to enable UNRWA to provide its vital services to the Palestinian refugees, and to plug the funding gap immediately.

Lazzarini warned that further weakening of the agency would create a vacuum in the region which would provoke unpredictable consequences. “No one wants to be a refugee, from one generation to another.”

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