UN agency for Palestinian refugees faces funding crisis

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UNRWA chief Lazzarini said the agency has raised enough donations to cover only 48 percent of its budget in 2022 and 2023.

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The head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees has said it was unable to pay its 28,000 employees on time this month because of a major funding crisis, warning of possible cuts to vital services to millions amid the global pandemic. was given.

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UNRWA runs schools, clinics and food distribution programs for millions of registered Palestinian refugees in the Middle East, mainly descendants of Palestinians who were forcibly displaced from their towns and villages in what is now Israel from its founding in 1948.

The 5.7 million refugees live mostly in camps that have been transformed into built but often poor residential areas in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, as well as in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.

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UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini told reporters in Jordan on Tuesday that this year’s resumption of United States support for the agency – which was halted by the Trump administration – was offset by a reduction in funding by other donors.

The agency also went through a management crisis in 2019, when its previous chief resigned amid allegations of sexual misconduct, nepotism and other abuses of authority at the agency.

Employees went on strike on Monday after receiving notices of delays in wages last week, but the proceedings were halted after mediation, Lazarini said.

“If UNRWA health services are compromised amid the global pandemic, the COVID-19 vaccination rollout will end. Maternal and child care will stop, half a million girls and boys will not know if they can continue to learn, and more than two million of the poorest Palestinian refugees will not receive cash and food aid,” he said.

“The humanitarian needs of Palestinian refugees continue to grow, while funding to the agency has remained stagnant since 2013.”

Lazzarini said the agency raised enough donations to cover up to 48 percent of its budget in 2022 and 2023 at a recent conference in Brussels. This generated $60m to make up for a $100m shortfall by the end of the year to keep services running.

“I am still not in a position to say when the November salary will be given,” he said.

Critics of UNRWA, including Israel, accused it of perpetuating a 73-year refugee crisis and said host countries should bear the burden of absorbing them.

Palestinians maintain that refugees and their descendants have a “right of return” to their homes in what is now Israel, a position supported by the host countries. Israel rejected this, noting that if such a right were fully implemented it would leave the country with a Palestinian majority.

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