Tuesday

26th Jan 2021

Opinion

The UNRWA has run out of money

  • A protest by Palestinian refugees outside the EU Parliament in Strasbourg (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

The UN Agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA), has run out of money, just as the world continues to fight a global pandemic, and for millions of Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, Covid-19 is two pandemics in one: a health crisis and a pandemic of abject poverty.

From the start, and thanks to generous contributions from the EU and its member states, UNRWA has been instrumental in the fight against the spread of Covid-19.

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We took swift action to continue our services while protecting our staff and refugees. We successfully shifted our health services to triage and telemedicine, education to remote learning, and food delivery from pick-up at distribution centres to home delivery.

We are very proud that UNRWA school children, more than half a million girls and boys, have continued to learn, and that our 144 health centres have never interrupted their services.

While UNRWA has provided a sense of dignity and stability to Palestine refugees, their access to education, health care and social services is now at risk: lack of funds means that refugees will fear that the basic right to education and healthcare is being questioned.

UNRWA's acute financial crisis today means that our 28,000 employees, many of whom are Palestine refugees themselves, feel uncertain about their future.

For the agency, this means uncertainty that we will be able to keep our critical humanitarian and development programmes running, not because of a lack of willingness, but because financial means are failing us.

UN approval

Last year, UNRWA's mandate was overwhelmingly renewed by the UN General Assembly until June 2023, demonstrating confidence in the agency's role.

However, the resources provided do not match the strong political support we receive from the international community: in the last years we have watched how funding has steadily declined, while the needs of the refugees have increased.

In 2018 the US stopped funding the agency, and the exceptional generosity that ensued, including from the Gulf countries, dropped in 2019 and decreased further in 2020. This year, the year of the pandemic, we received the same amount as 8 years ago.

Since 1971, UNRWA has worked closely with the EU, forging an exemplary partnership based on shared values and objectives.

Such partnership is probably the most strategic of all, not only for the financial support that it has generated, but also at the political level: EU's support is part of the EU strategy of contributing to the promotion of stability in the Middle East, and we deeply appreciate EU's international engagement in support of the agency: by using its diplomatic leverage, it can persuade other key donors, including from the region, that have yet to make their 2020 contributions.

The EU is one of our largest and most reliable donors.

Through multi-annual Joint Declarations, the EU has provided reliable and predictable support to UNRWA programme budget, covering the agency's crucial services that are today at risk.

Pending the adoption of a new EU long-term budget, a new declaration will be soon signed, and our hope is that the EU will continue to support Palestine refugees as it has done in the last years: its multi-year funding model constitutes an example of good donorship to the international community, accompanied by a regular dialogue and engagement that is forward looking and strategic.

50-year history

The EU's role as one of the most reliable supporters to Palestine refugees should not be overlooked: over the past 50 years, Brussels' investment in UNRWA, at the forefront of one of the most protracted refugee crises in history, has contributed to the provision of vital services and protection for Palestine refugees, helping them to achieve their full potential in human development.

UNRWA schools have seen generations of young Palestine refugees achieve great results, like Israa Al-Rifai, a young woman who scored full marks in all her 9th grade exams in Syria, despite the displacement and nearly 10 years of conflict.

The EU's investment in UNRWA is a remarkable contribution to bring stability and prosperity to the region, something that a commission with geopolitical ambitions should be proud of.

Author bio

Matthias Burchard is director of the the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for palestine refugees in the near east (UNRWA) representative office to the European Union.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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