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Unknown future for Palestinian refugees as UNRWA's funds dip

Unknown future awaits Palestinian refugees as UNRWA may stop services next September
4 min read
26 June, 2023
Last Tuesday, UNWRA chief Philippe Lazzarini said that the agency may stop working as of next September if it does not obtain additional financial resources from member states.
"This is not the time to waver. The time has come to act," Lazzarini stressed. [Getty]

Palestinian refugees are still struggling to stay afloat and keep their issue alive amid the endless efforts adopted by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees to end its services under the pretext of lack of financial aid. 

Last Tuesday, UNWRA chief Philippe Lazzarini said that the agency may stop working as of next September if it does not obtain additional financial resources from member states.

Lazzarini's remarks came during a meeting in the Advisory Commission (AdCom) meeting, which convened in Beirut on 20 and 21 June, calling the participants to increase sustainable and predictable funding to the Agency, reiterating the real risk and probable impact of a suspension of services on Palestine refugees.

"The meeting of the AdCom this time should serve as an early warning of the looming disaster we will hit in September if we do not receive extra funding," said Lazzarini. 

"Our budget is tight and cannot be further decreased if we are to deliver on our mandate," he added, referring to the public-like services UNRWA provides to Palestine refugees in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, the besieged Gaza Strip, and refugee camps in neighbouring countries like Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. 

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"Without immediate additional funding, UNRWA will be unable to maintain operations beyond September, threatening the closure of over 700 schools and 140 health centres," he explained. 

He added that emergency services in all of his organisation's areas of operation will grind to a halt, leaving millions of Palestine refugees, who are reliant on assistance from UNRWA, on the threshold of starvation.

"This is not the time to waver. The time has come to act," Lazzarini stressed.

A Gaza-based senior official at UNRWA, who preferred not mention to his name, said to The New Arab that UNRWA already has adopted some procedures to reduce its services in the West Bank and Gaza in a bid to curb its financial crisis. 

"We were ordered to decline all the contracts for those who have relatives working in UNRWA. In addition, the health centres in our operating areas lack medicine as we cannot purchase more medical treatment currently," the source said. 

"Our chief statements were just a warning, but his statements will be implemented soon if the donors do not refund us once again," the source added. 

Neither statements of Lazzarini nor the official at UNRWA were accepted by Palestinians who accused the UN agency would implement a political plan adopted by the United States of America and Israeli to end the issue of Palestinian refugees. 

"Such an unjust decision will provoke angry reactions among the Palestinians and threaten the future of millions of Palestinian refugees in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon and leave them in front of an unknown fate," Mohammed Kharoub, a community activist in Balata camp in the West Bank, said to TNA

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He called on the United Nations and donor countries to provide an urgent budget for UNRWA to continue providing basic services to the refugees until their return.

He warned that stopping UNRWA's operations will leave refugees "facing an unknown fate" and signals "a new catastrophe" that will have repercussions on the countries hosting refugees and security and stability.

Samiha al-Shaer, a 67-year-old elderly Palestinian woman from Rafah refugee camp in the south of Gaza, lives with her family of 11, in a house of no more than 50 square meters, and she is struggling to provide food for her four disabled sons.

"In the past, I mainly depended on the assistance provided by UNRWA, in terms of food and some money, but today things have changed, as it (UNRWA) has reduced the assistance it used to provide us," al-Shaer said.

Eleven years ago, al-Shaer used to get food aid every three months, which was enough for her family, But now, the food she receives every three months is barely enough for a month only. 

"The UNRWA reduced the quantity of food aid and this is why it is not enough for us," the elderly woman said. 

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She said that the UN agency has not fulfilled all its health, education, and food services for refugees, leaving low-income families struggling to provide the minimum requirements of life.

"For decades, the status of refugees has been imposed on us, but without a clear horizon for the end of our continuous suffering. It is not easy to live as a refugee for many years. The word refugee means escaping from death to a safe haven, but we escaped from death to continuous suffering," she stressed. 

UNRWA was established as a United Nations agency by a resolution of the General Assembly in 1949 and was mandated to provide assistance and protection to approximately 5.6 million Palestine refugees registered with it in the occupied West Bank, the Gaza Strip, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan.

UNRWA services include education, health care, relief, social services, camp infrastructure, improvement, protection, and microfinance.

The body's officials say that the agency faces significant financial challenges because it has a financial deficit of about US$100 million for this fiscal year.