The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), facing a chronic budget deficit, has launched an appeal for $1.6 billion from the international community to cover the costs of its programs in 2023, calling on Arab countries for more solidarity.
This amount, which is equivalent to the value of the appeal made by UNRWA last year, was requested on Tuesday in Geneva from donor countries by the Commissioner-General of UNRWA, Philippe Lazzarini, who said in an interview, “We could have asked for double. But we have seen that there has been stagnation in resources over the past ten years. There is a kind of the glass ceiling.
“We have entered dangerous territory… At some point, we could reach a breaking point, which is likely to lead to the suspension of activities,” he added.
Lazzarini attributes the lack of donor contribution to the multiplicity of crises and humanitarian needs in the world, but also to “new regional political dynamics”.
He said, “At the political level, it is unpopular in donor countries to greatly increase support for UNRWA,” expressing regret that the agency’s support is subject to “political considerations.”
Last year, UNRWA, which provides aid to about 5.9 million Palestinians, received about $1.2 billion, and “for the fourth year in a row, we end up with a huge deficit of more than $70 million,” according to its Commissioner-General.
In 2023, the Agency requires $848 million for essential services, which include health, education, relief and social services, and protection, while another $781.6 million will be allocated to fund emergency operations in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon.
In its appeal, UNRWA requests $311.4 million for Gaza, $32.9 million for the West Bank, $247.2 million for Syria, $160 million for Lebanon, and $28.8 million for Jordan.
“The multiplying challenges we faced over the past year, including funding shortfalls, conflicting global crises, inflation, supply chain disruptions, geopolitical changes, and the massive rise in levels of poverty and unemployment among Palestine refugees, have placed tremendous pressure on UNRWA,” the agency said in its statement.-
In particular, Lazzarini called on the Arab countries to translate their political “solidarity” with the Palestinians by providing “tangible and substantial resources.” He explained that the contribution of Arab countries in 2018 represented 25% of the UNRWA budget, compared to 3% in 2021 and 4% last year.--
UNRWA’s deficit worsened after the United States, its main contributor, withdrew its funding under former President Donald Trump. But Joe Biden gave her a breath of life, with the announcement in 2021 of resuming aid to UNRWA, amounting to $340 million.
“UNRWA continues to play an indispensable role in the lives of millions of Palestine refugees. We are working to maintain the delivery of essential services in an extremely difficult financial and political context,” said the UNRWA Commissioner-General.
“Palestine refugees – one of the most disadvantaged communities in the region – are facing unprecedented challenges and are increasingly dependent on UNRWA for basic services, and sometimes simply for survival,” added Lazzarini.
Most of the Palestinian refugees currently live below the poverty line, while many of them depend on humanitarian aid, which includes cash and food assistance provided by UNRWA, according to the UN agency.
“I have just returned from Syria, where I witnessed unspeakable suffering and despair,” Lazzarini explained. “The situation of Palestine refugees there is unfortunately mirrored in other places such as Lebanon and Gaza, where Palestine refugees have reached rock bottom. Many have told me that all they ask for is to be able to live a life.” Karima. It’s not much.”
The economic crisis that Lebanon has been facing since 2019 has negatively affected vulnerable groups, including Palestinian refugees. UNRWA said that the poverty rate among refugees in Lebanon, which reached about 70 percent at the beginning of 2022, has now risen to 93 percent.
A large number of Palestinian refugees were among the approximately 100 people killed when a boat carrying irregular migrants sank off Syria in September 2022.
The agency was established by a decision of the United Nations in 1949, a year after the establishment of Israel, and it provides health, social and educational services to about 6 million Palestinian refugees, distributed in camps in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon in addition to the camps in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.