9 NOVEMBER 2020

The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

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United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees

A distressing announcement from our colleagues at UNRWA:  The Commissioner General for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), Philippe Lazzarini, announced that the Agency has run out of money as of today to pay for the salaries of 28,000 UNRWA staff for November.  The Agency needs to raise $70 million by the end of the month if it is to pay full salaries for the months of November and December.  Mr. Lazzarini said if additional funding is not pledged in the next weeks, UNRWA will be forced to defer partial salaries to all staff.  Over the last five years, UNRWA cut $500 million out of its budget by enacting efficiency and cost‑reduction measures.  This has included cutting staff, stopping needed repairs and investments in its infrastructure, increasing classroom size to 50 students per teacher, and reducing life‑saving humanitarian assistance at a time of rising needs.

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Questions and Answers

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Question: …On UNRWA first, does the Secretary‑General plan to reach out himself and try and spur this $70 million fundraising campaign?

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Spokesman: …On your first question, on UNRWA, the Secretary‑General has been a big advocate of the stabilizing presence of UNRWA and the work that it does.  He will continue to advocate for them and advocate in a way that will hopefully lead to money coming into the agency very quickly.  As you’ll recall, he personally chaired a number of fundraising conferences for UNRWA, and he will continue to advocate for them.

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Question:  I have a follow‑up on the issue of UNRWA.  So, you said… you talked about the position of the Secretary‑General, but you didn’t name exact steps that he is willing or wishing to take to help and…

Spokesman:  I mean, what he’s willing to do is reach out to Member States as much as he needs to, to try to get money for them.  I mean, the steps are pretty simple.  UNRWA needs cash, and we don’t print money.  So, we need to… and Philippe Lazzarini and his team are working with the donors, with Member States, and the Secretary‑General will fully support them in any way he can.

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Question:  And another question on UNRWA and its funding.  Salaries will not be paid.  What then potentially is the impact on Palestinians living in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip?  And how could it impact basic services for them?

Spokesman:  Well, what we’re said… I think Mr. Lazzarini said, if the money doesn’t come in, they will go to partial salaries.  So, they would not see zero out.  That will have an impact on Palestinians in the sense… because the vast majority of UNRWA staff are local staff.  So, if… that will cut into the money that’s flowing into society.  Obviously, there’s no talk at this point of cutting services because some of it has already been cut, but a further cut of educational, health services, socio‑services could have a devastating impact on Palestinian society.

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Question:  You may have already answered this.  What is the reason why the funds to UNRWA have been cut in half, you said?  Who or what is contributing less and why?

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, why people contribute less, I think you have to ask them.  We saw a number of Governments eliminate or drastically cut back their financial contributions and… every… it’s all up on the UNRWA website in terms of the contributions.

Question:  But you have no… [inaudible] in the past, why did they cut it this year?

Spokesman:  If somebody contributes, it’s up… or stops contributing, it is up to them to explain why.  It’s not for me to… we suffer the consequences.  We don’t have to interpret the reasons.  Evelyn?

Question:  Yes, Stéph.  Thank you.  I just wanted to point out that the big gap in UNRWA is at least three years’ worth of US funding that was slashed by President Trump.  It’s $300 million a year.  Is this a [inaudible] the Secretary‑General going to appeal strongly to the US, whether it is listed…?

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General and I think all of us will appeal to all those who can and are willing to give.

Question:  But that’s a big… you’re talking about 9… at least 900 million…

Spokesman:  I… no, no, I’m aware of the numbers.

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Question:  Thank you so much.  Yeah, I’ve got a question about this award that the SG is getting tonight from the World Jewish Congress, which is an avowedly Zionist organization.  And I guess my question is, have you considered what the optics are of this?  I mean, you’ve just been talking about how nobody’s giving any money to UNRWA.  It’s been a rough year for the Palestinians from the point of view of the Americans, Arab states turning their back on them, and now tonight, the UN… the UNSG taking an award from a Zionist organization.  Have you thought about how it looks?

Spokesman:  I think the Secretary‑General, as you’ll see from the remarks, is focussed on the fight against anti‑Semitism, which he has been very vocal about since day one.  And I would encourage you to read the remarks where he talks about discrimination in terms of other religions, whether it’s Islamophobia or others.  His remarks in no way contradict his strong belief and continued belief in a two‑State solution, where Palestinians and Israelis can live together in peace, side by side.

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For information media. Not an official record.