Funding deficit of over $40 million threatens UN assistance to Palestinian refugees

UN-funded housing project site for Palestinians at Khan Younis, Gaza. UN Photo/Shareef Sarhan

11 November 2013 – The United Nations agency providing protection and assistance to some five million Palestinian refugees is facing a cash deficit that threatens to bring its operations to a standstill, its chief has warned, appealing to both traditional and new donors to step up support.

“For the first time in probably decades, UNRWA is working in an emergency mode almost everywhere in the region where it operates,” Commissioner-General Filippo Grandi told UN Radio in a recent interview, referring to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.

The Agency was created 64 years ago to assist a population that originally numbered 750,000 but has since then grown to over five million across Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria. Funded by voluntary contributions, the organization this year faces a $48 million funding shortfall which, if not covered, will prevent it from paying staff salaries and bring its operations to a standstill.

UNRWA assists more than half a million Palestinian refugees registered in Syria. However, because of the ongoing conflict in that country, over half of the Palestinian refugees there are internally displaced, while 60,000 others have fled to Lebanon and Jordan.

“We should not forget that the Syrian emergency is a very large, complex crisis that has many important components [and] a Palestinian dimension,” said Mr. Grandi, who also briefed the General Assembly last week on the Agency’s annual report.

While the situation in Syria was foremost on many people’s minds, he voiced his “profound” concern about the situation in Gaza, where the economy is “moribund” and the situation is now exacerbated by the recent closures of tunnels, through which many basic commodities were entering into the territory that has been subject to an Israeli blockade since 2007.

“The vulnerability of Palestine refugees is increasing, and with it their fears of marginalization and abandonment, the more so as humanitarian resources are diverted elsewhere,” he noted.

During his term as Commissioner-General, Mr. Grandi has sought to expand UNRWA’s donor base beyond its traditional donors – the United States, the European Union and its members, Norway, Japan, Switzerland and Australia – who have over the years provided over 90 per cent of UNRWA’s funding for its basic programmes.

He noted that countries such as Brazil and Turkey have substantially increased their contributions to the Agency, and he called on Arab donors and States in other regions, especially Asia and Latin America, to consider increasing their support.

Today in Ramallah, UNRWA received a $6.4 million contribution from the Japanese Government that will help the Agency provide 300,000 Palestine refugees with food aid during the second half of 2014.

“These are difficult times to raise funds worldwide, especially since 2008 and the economic downturn,” Mr. Grandi acknowledged in the interview. “It’s been very difficult. Governments around the world, donor Governments in particular, are cutting their own public services and we’re asking them to fund a public service for a population that has no State… that is in exile.”


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