Currently, more than 5 million Palestinians are registered with UNRWA as refugees.
Acting Commissioner-General of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), Christian Saunders, warned of the serious repercussions of the US Middle East peace plan, dubbed the “deal of the century”, on the future of the Agency and of millions of Palestinian refugees in the region.
Speaking during a meeting of foreign ministers of the League of Arab States, held on March 4, 2020, in Cairo, Saunders said: “We have concerns that the US plan may already be encouraging political challenges to the Agency.”
“One of those concerns is a new round of questions about our mandate and role”, said Saunders. “This is nothing new in itself, and we have developed strong messaging for entities targeting our mandate, but the intensity and the number of actors engaging is growing day by day and they are increasingly targeting decision makers and parliamentarians across the political spectrum in donor capitals with the intent to have UNRWA defunded.”
He said another concern is the effort being made to terminate UNRWA’s presence in East Jerusalem, referring back to 2018, when Israeli municipal officials began interfering with UNRWA activities and made repeated threats indicating the intent to close UNRWA installations and its ability to provide services in East Jerusalem. It remained a local campaign by the mayor of Jerusalem at the time, until the end of last year when he introduced a draft bill or law in Israel’s parliament that would terminate UNRWA’s presence and activities in the city.
“On multiple occasions we have made clear to the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs that the standing agreement between UNRWA and Israel signed in 1967 remains in force and also the UN Convention on Privileges and Immunities protects UN facilities and assets from interference”, Saunders’ statement read.
“It is also fundamentally important to recall that the agency’s mandate emanates from the UN General Assembly and UNRWA needs to continue to provide protection and essential services in conformance to that mandate until there is a just and lasting solution and / or the UN General Assembly determines otherwise”, it added.
Saunders said that pressures on UNRWA are closing in from all sides. “As we engage and counter mandate antagonists – which consumes considerable amounts of time and energy – our financial situation continues to deteriorate and the current funding arrangements for the Agency have fallen very much below our minimum requirements.”
“Commitments to our mandate and its renewal in December – for a further three years until 30 June 2023 – by the vast, overwhelming majority of the members of the United Nations General Assembly, sent a crucial message to the international community and to the Palestine refugees themselves”, he stated.
“However, the financial constraints placed on us since mid 2019 have become truly unsustainable and the Palestine refugees are feeling the consequences”, warned UNRWA chief.
“We started 2020 with debts of US$ 55 million dollars”, he said. “So far we have received pledges of only $299 million out of the total requirement of $1.4. Billion. If we do not receive additional pledges or those who have pledged do not make good on existing pledges then we will run out of money at the end of next month. At this point I do not see how the needs of the Palestine refugees can be met this year if support remains stagnant at 2019 levels and our core programs implemented in Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and the West Bank including East Jerusalem will grind to a halt. “
“The refugee community has also been shaken by the measures we have been forced to take, from near suspension of our education program, to reductions in emergency assistance delivered in the occupied Palestinian territory and Syria. I have so far resisted pressures to suspend core services, but in the end it comes down to available resources and I will have no choice”, warned UNRWA’s Acting Commissioner-General.
He appealed for partners to strengthen support, and ensure new pledges and existing pledges are transferred as early as possible so that the Agency is able to sustain the essential services and dignity of the Palestine refugee communities.
UNRWA is a United Nations agency established by the General Assembly in 1949 and mandated to provide assistance and protection to some 5.6 million Palestine refugees registered with UNRWA across its five fields of operation. Its mission is to help Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip achieve their full human development potential, pending a just and lasting solution to their plight.