Palestinians receive their monthly food aid from a UN distribution centre in the Rafah refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip, last year. (photo credit: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
Palestinian refugees have welcome US restoration of funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).
The United States announced on Wednesday that it is contributing US $150 million to UNRWA, restoring its role as a decades-long friend and supporter of the UN agency that provides life-saving human development and humanitarian aid assistance to Palestine refugees across the Middle East.
Palestinian refugee Ahmed Odeh, from the Duheisheh camp, in Bethlehem, said the move represents a stark divergence from the former US administration’s anti-Palestine policy.
Another refugee—Subhi Alyan, 71—said the initiative comes at a critical time for Palestinian refugees who have been suffering multiple hardships as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
UNRWA said in a press release issued on Wednesday that the restoration of funds comes after recent years of severe financial crisis for the Agency. The COVID-19 pandemic has only worsened the situation, forcing the Agency to respond to a public health crisis amid the most serious financial crisis in its history and manage its resources on a month-to-month basis due to unreliable funding.
From the time UNRWA was established in 1949 until 2018, the United States was the largest funder of the Agency, ensuring that UNRWA was able to fulfill its UN General Assembly mandate to provide humanitarian assistance to Palestine refugees until a just and enduring political solution to the conflict is achieved.
Remarking on the U.S. announcement, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, “The United States is pleased to resume support for UNRWA’s services, including an education for over 500,000 Palestinian boys and girls, thereby providing hope and stability in UNRWA’s five fields of operation in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, and the West Bank and Gaza Strip.”
The newly announced U.S. funding will support the overall UNRWA programme budget -- the majority of which funds the operation of more than 700 schools educating over half a million children and almost 150 primary health clinics providing 8.5 million patient consultations a year -- as well as emergency appeals to respond to dire humanitarian challenges in Syria, the West Bank (including in East Jerusalem) and Gaza. These funds will support food, emergency cash assistance, emergency health, mental health and psychosocial support, education in emergencies, protection, water and sanitation, and COVID-19 response.
UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini expressed gratitude for the renewed UNRWA-U.S. relationship and welcomed the funding disbursement.
“UNRWA and the United States are historical partners in working together, alongside other generous UN Member States, to ensure that Palestine refugees can thrive. UNRWA could not be more pleased that once again we will partner with the United States to provide critical assistance to some of the most vulnerable refugees across the Middle East and fulfill our mandate to educate and provide primary health care to millions of refugees every day”, said Lazzarini.
“There is no other institution that does what UNRWA does, and we are committed to protecting the safety, health and future of the millions of refugees we serve. The U.S. contribution comes at a critical moment, as we continue to adjust to the challenges the COVID-19 pandemic presents. We encourage all Member States to contribute to UNRWA”, he added.