UNRWA Seeks $1.6 Bn to Overcome Chronic Budget Shortfalls

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA, which struggles to overcome chronic budget shortfalls, appealed Tuesday for $1.6 billion for its work in 2023 with $848 million needed for core services and another $781.6 million needed for emergency operations.

UNRWA, which provides services to nearly six million Palestinians registered in the Palestinian territories – including East Jerusalem- Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria, runs over 700 schools that offer education to half a million children and provides health, sanitation, and social services, including food and cash assistance.

The agency currently counts nearly 30,000 staff, but most of them are Palestinian refugees.

Noting that the agency played “an indispensable role” for millions of Palestinian refugees, UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini stressed that they work to maintain the delivery of basic services in an incredibly difficult financial and political context.

Having just returned from a trip to Syria where he had witnessed firsthand indescribable suffering and despair, Lazzarini said that the situation is sadly mirrored in Lebanon and Gaza among other places where Palestine refugees are hitting rock bottom and now live below the poverty line.

Lazzarini emphasized that a growing number of Palestinian refugees are dependent on UNRWA for assistance, sometimes for their sheer survival, but the agency, which has long faced chronic budget shortfalls, is in a situation that worsened dramatically in 2018 when former US president Donald Trump cut support to UNRWA.

Siding with Israeli criticisms of the agency founded in 1949 – a year after Israel’s creation – Trump’s administration branded UNRWA irredeemably flawed.

Lazzarini said that UNRWA is still struggling although US President Joe Biden’s administration has fully restored support, raising last year only around $1.2 billion of the $1.6 billion it had appealed for.

Stressing the need for a more sustainable, predictable, long-term, and more regular source of funding, Lazzarini said that they cannot and should not be always scrambling to bring in funds to cover UNRWA’s contribution to human rights and stability.

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