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UN Palestinian agency hopes Biden resumes aid, says it won’t cover shortfall

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees expresses hope that the United States will resume its funding, but says it still would not be enough to cover a shortfall.

Under former president Donald Trump, the United States halted its support for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, or UNRWA.

On Tuesday, Washington’s interim UN envoy Richard Mills said President Joe Biden intends to “restore US assistance programs that support economic development and humanitarian aid for the Palestinian people,” without mentioning UNRWA.

“We welcome the Biden administration’s decision to restore assistance to Palestinians and look forward to continuing conversation with them about resumption of aid to UNRWA,” says the UN agency’s spokeswoman, Tamara Alrifai.

Alrifai says the “2021 financial year looks very difficult.”

Palestinian students affiliated with the United Nations “UNRWA” wear face masks amid the coronavirus pandemic, in Rafah, south of the Gaza Strip, on November 25, 2020. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

“While the overall budget will remain at US $806 million, same as 2020, the income forecast in the best estimates will lead to an expected shortfall equivalent to three months of operations.

“We therefore expect a cashflow crisis as of March this year. More broadly, the expected deficit would be untenable and could lead to a financial collapse of the agency,” Alrifai says.

“Our financial forecast takes into consideration the expected re-engagement of the US administration, so we predict a bit more income than 2020 but this slightly improved income will not cover the huge liabilities that UNRWA already has.”

The agency had entered 2021 with liabilities of $75 million from the last financial year, and its annual deficit was expected to reach $200 million in the current year, she adds.

The Trump administration, along with Israel, accuses UNRWA of perpetuating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Jerusalem criticizes the agency’s practice of extending refugee status to millions of descendants, rather than only to the original refugees as is the norm with most refugee populations worldwide.

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