The UN agency for Palestinian refugees on the verge of financial collapse

The United Nations on Friday called for sustainable funding for its agency that supports Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, which is on the brink of financial collapse.

Chronic underfunding over the past decade and the resulting harsh austerity measures mean that UNRWA is already operating in a $75 million deficit, putting its rescue programs across the Middle East at risk.

“As I speak to you today, I do not have the funds to keep our schools, health centers and other services running starting in September,” Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini told a pledging conference at UN headquarters. In New York.

UNRWA was established in 1949 as a temporary agency to provide aid to Palestinians following the mass displacement of the land that became Israel, making it one of the first UN humanitarian operations.

Today, almost six million people in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan depend on its services, which are financed almost entirely by voluntary contributions. Nearly a third of registered Palestinian refugees live in camps.

UNRWA is seeking $1.6 billion for its operations this year. Mr. Lazzararini said an additional $75 million is urgently needed to provide food for more than a million people in Gaza. Another $30 million is required to maintain food and cash assistance to 600,000 people in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.

UN Secretary General António Guterres urged the international community to ensure the agency is fully funded.

Despite its essential role, “we allow UNRWA to remain trapped in financial limbo,” he said in remarks delivered by his Chief of Staff, Courtenay Rattray.

The UN chief was also deeply concerned that some of the largest and most trusted donors have indicated they may be reducing their support.

“Let’s be clear: UNRWA is on the brink of financial collapse. The consequences of further budget cuts would be catastrophic,” he warned.

More than half a million young Palestinians are enrolled in UNRWA schools, two of whom made passionate pleas at the pledging conference.

Ahmad Abu Daqqa attends a children’s school in the Gaza Strip, where a blockade has been in place for more than 15 years.

“We, the students of the Gaza Strip, are looking for hope in the midst of despair,” he said, relaying a message from his classmates. “We only find it in education and learning, despite the many difficulties and obstacles we face, such as living in a zone of conflict and war.”

UNRWA students are proud of their education, heritage and culture, added Leen Sharqawi, 15, who attends a girls’ school in Jordan. They also have big dreams.

“We are not just Palestine refugees,” he said. “We are children who dream of becoming global citizens and who want to help the world become a better place. Good education is what will allow us to do this.”

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