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Friday, December 3, 2021

UNRWA chief in Qatar warns ‘only lifeline’ for Palestinian refugees faces collapse


UNRWA is a designated UN agency to provide aid for Palestinian refugees across the Middle East. 

The commissioner-general for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), Philippe Lazzarini, arrived in Qatar on Monday to seek funding as services to millions of Palestinian refugees are at risk of suspension due to a severe financial crisis. 

Lazzarini visited Doha for a high-level meeting to discuss ways to financially support UNRWA, which provides education and healthcare among other essential services to some 5.7 million registered Palestinian refugees across the region.

Lazzarini warned the organisation is now in the “danger zone” and could face total collapse as it is running out of resources that allow it to help refugees.

“The funding for the organisation has not increased in nearly 10 years,” he said.

For years, the organisation has been committed to assist Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and the occupied territories of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.

Lazzarini noted UNRWA has been the “only lifeline” for refugees who continue to struggle in crisis-hit areas. 

“UNRWA, being weakened because of the financial crisis, is unable to meet their expectations and hence you have more distress, despair, and anger,” he said, stressing that the situation in some refugee camps is worsening.

“There is a total mismatch between the expected delivery and demand being given to the agency, and the resources being made available,” he said.

Last month, Lazzarini said UNRWA is experiencing an “existential” budget crisis, and appealed for urgent funding of $120 million to prevent shutting down education, healthcare and other vital services.

Earlier, the agency requested funding of $800 million to eliminate the risk of halting any kind of services. 

Read also: ‘Education is our weapon’: EAA’s students of Gaza reveal horrors of life under occupation

The worrying situation comes despite a $18 million pledge by Qatar and US President Joe Biden restoring $235 mllion in aid to Palestinian refugees in April.

Earlier this year, the United Kingdom, UNRWA’s third-largest donor, reduced its funding from $57 million to $28 million.

“Over the last few years, what we did was a number of efficiency measures, which after that became posterity measures and started to impact on the quality of those services,” Lazzarini said.

“Today, we cannot go further without really impacting the services towards the Palestinian refugees and hence, raising the alarm bell,” he added. 

For his trip to Doha two main outcomes are hoped to be reached, he told Al Jazeera.

“The first is to help the organisation, not to collapse it,” he said. “We have entered a danger zone. It is most important we keep our schools and health centres open, especially in the middle of a pandemic.”

He also said that as part of revising the distribution of funding for UNRWA, he will seek further support from GCC countries “in general, in order to have better visibility on where we are going.”

Meanwhile, an international donors’ conference organised by Jordan is set to take place in later this month to gather support for the agency, which has requested $800m in funding.

On Monday, UNRWA staff in Jordan launched a protest in the capital to call for donor countries to aid the dwindling agency.

It is a “message to the agency’s (UNRWA’s) management that they should not take away from the rights of the employee, whether in salary, bonus, or job security,” said Riyad Zygan, head of UNRWA Local Workers Union in Jordan.

In an earlier statement, Lazzarini said it was not clear to agency officials if they would be able to carry on their services in November and December.

“The minimum we owe to the Palestinian refugees is to continue to invest in their human development in the absence of durable peace in the region,” he said.

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