United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees faces funding crisis
The head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees said on Tuesday he was unable to pay his 28,000 staff on time this month due to a major funding crunch, warning against potential cuts to essential services to millions of people in a global pandemic.
UNRWA operates schools, clinics and food distribution programs for millions of registered Palestinian refugees across the Middle East, primarily descendants of Palestinians who fled or were driven from what is now Israel during the 1948 war surrounding its creation.
The 5.7 million refugees mostly live in camps that have been turned into built-up but often impoverished residential areas in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, as well as in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. . UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini told reporters in Jordan that the resumption of US support for the agency this year – which had been halted by the Trump administration – had been offset by a cut in funding by other donors.
The agency also went through a management crisis in 2019, when its former director resigned amid allegations of sexual misconduct, nepotism and other abuses of power within the agency.
Staff went on strike on Monday after being told last week that wages would be delayed, but halted the action following mediation, Lazzarini said.
“If UNRWA’s health services are compromised in the midst of a global pandemic, the COVID-19 vaccination rollout will end. Maternal and child care will cease, 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 money or food aid, ”he said. -he declares.
“The humanitarian needs of Palestinian refugees are steadily increasing as agency funding has stagnated since 2013.” Lazzarini said the agency raised enough donations at a recent conference in Brussels to cover up to 48% of its budget in 2022 and 2023. It also generated $ 60 million out of a $ 100 million deficit until the end of the year to keep services running. .
“I am still not in a position to say when the November salaries will be paid,” he said. Critics of UNRWA, including Israel, accuse it of perpetuating the 73-year refugee crisis and say host countries should shoulder the burden of their absorption.
Palestinians say refugees and their descendants have a “right of return” to their homes in what is now Israel, a position supported by host countries. Israel rejects this, noting that if such a right is fully implemented, it would leave the country with a Palestinian majority.
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