UNRWA’s Acting Commissioner General, Christian Saunders.
With the advent of the new year, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) has warned of the projected repercussions of insufficient funding on millions of registered Palestine refugees across the region.
“As we move towards the beginning of a new year, our financial deficit remains a very serious concern. In spite of the funding we have received over the last few weeks, it has, unfortunately, not been sufficient to close the shortfall and the agency is carrying over a significant deficit into 2020”, said UNRWA’s Acting Commissioner General, Christian Saunders.
“We will need to double our fundraising efforts, particularly as 2020 is being predicted as being a very difficult financial year, not just for UNRWA but for humanitarian and development funding globally”, he said.
“In 2019, we faced the most serious financial shortfall in the history of the agency. This already difficult situation was compounded by a crisis of confidence in the agency’s senior leadership following serious allegations of mismanagement”, said Saunders. “This resulted in an OIOS investigation which culminated in a complete change to the senior leadership. Both issues were the cause of considerable concern and uncertainty for all of us, especially the beneficiaries of our programs.”
UNRWA’s Acting Commissioner General said in order to repair the agency’s reputation and help regain the confidence of donors and other partners, the agency has initiated a number of organizational reforms to improve transparency, efficiency and effectiveness. These efforts have been rewarded with renewed commitments by governments with both the release of previously pledged funding and with additional pledges by Germany, the European Union, Qatar and Ireland.
“The contextual environment we operate within remains challenging as we continue to face intense political and socio economic pressure that negatively impacts our work on the ground and the support to Palestine refugees”, he stated. “We are witnessing sustained efforts to replace UNRWA in East Jerusalem and high levels of violence and destruction in the West Bank.”
He further warned that Gaza has suffered more than twelve years of blockade which has led to terrible living conditions which if not addressed will shortly become completely unsustainable. The Agency’s health teams speak of psychosocial and trauma reaching epidemic proportions.
“In Lebanon, a political crisis which started on 17 October and a rapidly deteriorating economy are challenging our ability to meet increasing demands for assistance”, warned the UN official. “In Syria as the conflict enters its ninth year, displacement, loss of livelihoods and destruction of personal property and infrastructure, all contribute to unbearable suffering. In Jordan, Palestine refugees, including Palestine Refugees from Syria, face social and economic hardships with dwindling employment opportunities, particularly for women and young people.”
The agency continues to raise alarm bells over the severe financial shortfall which threatens its ability to sustain its relief operations and to deliver humanitarian assistance, “even to the most vulnerable of the vulnerable”.
“Despite the challenging political environment and difficult socio-economic conditions, I continue to be amazed by the dignity, determination and resourcefulness of the Palestine refugee women, men and children”, said Saunders. “Everywhere I go in our five areas of operations, I am reminded of the enormous resilience it takes to be a Palestine refugee, as I am reminded of the essential role played by UNRWA and the services we provide in contributing to that resilience.
He hailed the overwhelming support of 170 states that voted for the renewal of UNRWA’s mandate for another three years at the United Nations General Assembly earlier this month, which he said is also an acknowledgement of the continued need for UNRWA’s services and for the rights of Palestine refugees to be preserved until there is a just and durable solution to their plight.
He pledged that the Agency will continue to advocate for the rights of Palestine refugees as enshrined under international law and to defend the Agency and its important work against increasing ill-intended attempts to undermine its critical work and the principles enshrined in international law and associated UN resolutions.
UNRWA is a United Nations agency established by the General Assembly in 1949 and mandated to provide assistance and protection to some 5.4 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.