UN agency for Palestinian refugees says it will seek $800m at November confab

UNRWA commissioner says he hopes to fund ‘3 core activities’ of education, health and social services

UNRWA's Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini, speaks during a press conference at the UNRWA headquarters in Gaza City, Nov. 26, 2020. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)
UNRWA's Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini, speaks during a press conference at the UNRWA headquarters in Gaza City, Nov. 26, 2020. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

UNITED NATIONS, New York — The UN agency supporting Palestinian refugees announced Friday it was seeking $800 million at a donor conference scheduled for November in Brussels.

UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini told reporters at the UN headquarters in New York that the organization needed “predictability” for its operations.

To fund UNRWA’s “three core activities” — education, health and social services — “we are seeking $800 million a year,” he told reporters ahead of the gathering, organized by Jordan and Sweden.

“The main objective of the conference is to have a better predictability” and to “promote visibility,” the Swiss diplomat said.

The funding would allow the agency to keep open the 700 or so schools it managed, catering to 550,000 children, as well as health centers and to provide social welfare to Palestinian refugees and their descendants.

In addition to the $800 million, Lazzarini said there was also a need for funds for the humanitarian aid provided by UNRWA, which varies from one year to the next, depending on the crisis, but which the agency estimates will be around half a million dollars in 2022.

Refugee school girls watch as UNRWA’s commissioner-general, Pierre Krahenbuhl, gives a press conference to launch a global campaign to support UNRWA, at the UNRWA Rimal Girls Preparatory School in Gaza City, Janurary 22, 2018. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

Lazzarini, who took the post last April, said his agency was $100 million short to see out this year, and warned that it might have to shut down some activities in November and December.

“Today we keep struggling, running after cash,” he said. “I never know as a commissioner-general weeks ahead if I would be able to pay the salaries of 28,000 staff.”

UNRWA provides assistance to more than five million Palestinians registered with it in the Palestinian territories, Jordan and Lebanon.

Israel has long pushed for UNRWA’s closure, arguing that it helps perpetuate the conflict with the Palestinians since it confers refugee status upon descendants of those originally displaced around the time of Israel’s War of Independence.

The agency recently announced an investigation into allegations of antisemitism and anti-Israel bias made against ten of its staffers throughout the Middle East.

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