Palestinian refugees hold banners during a protest against the UNWRA's decision on aid cuts and downsizing plans in Bethlehem, West Bank on 26 September 2018 [Wisam Hashlamoun/Anadolu Agency]
The Acting Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Neat East (UNRWA), Christian Saunders, has called on Arab states to increase their financial and political support to Palestine refugees.
Addressing the 153rd session of the Council of Arab Foreign Ministers on 4 March, Saunders referred to the pressure that UNRWA has come under since 2018, when the US Administration, the Agency’s largest donor, decided to cease its financial support.
“The intensity and the number of actors engaged in trying to delegitimize UNRWA are 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,” said Saunders. “The attacks question our mandate and mission and include efforts to terminate UNRWA from providing services to Palestine refugees in East Jerusalem.”
“Pressures on UNRWA are closing in from all sides,” said Saunders, “and our financial situation continues to deteriorate. I am immensely grateful to those members of the League of Arab States that have increased their support to the Agency.”
The UNRWA Acting Commissioner-General held meetings with the Secretary General of the League of Arab States Ahmad Aboul Ghait, the Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sameh Shoukry, the Foreign Minister of the United Arab Emirates Anwar Gargash and with the Minister of State for African Countries Affairs of Saudi Arabia, Ahmad bin Abdulaziz Qattan.
In his closing remarks, the Acting Commissioner-General regretted that the current funding arrangements for the UNRWA have fallen very much below the minimum needs for 2020. He appealed for a stronger support and for new financial pledges and asked for disbursements to be made as soon as possible to ensure the continuation of services.
UNRWA is confronted with an increased demand for services resulting from a growth in the number of registered Palestine refugees, the extent of their vulnerability and their deepening poverty. UNRWA is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions and financial support has been outpaced by the growth in needs. As a result, the UNRWA program budget, which supports the delivery of core essential services, operates with a large shortfall.