UN Palestinian refugee agency seeks $1.6 billion amid budget shortfalls
UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini says organization plays ‘indispensable’ role as increasing number rely on its services, many of whom seek only a ‘life of dignity’
The UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, appealed Tuesday for $1.6 billion for its work in 2023, as it struggles to overcome chronic budget shortfalls.
UNRWA — which provides services to nearly six million Palestinians registered in the Palestinian territories, as well as in East Jerusalem, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria — warned that “compounding challenges” had placed it under “immense strain.”
The agency, which counts nearly 30,000 staff — most of them registered Palestinian refugees — runs more than 700 schools that offer education to half a million children, and provides health, sanitation, and social services, including food and cash assistance.
Out of the $1.6 billion requested, UNRWA said $848 million was needed for such core services. It said another $781.6 million was needed for emergency operations.
UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini said the agency played “an indispensable role” for millions of Palestinians.
“We work to maintain the delivery of basic services in an incredibly difficult financial and political context,” he said in a statement.
The agency warned that most Palestinians registered as refugees now live below the poverty line and a growing number are dependent on UNRWA for assistance, sometimes for their “sheer survival.”
Lazzarini said he had just returned from a trip to Syria, where he had “witnessed firsthand indescribable suffering and despair.” That situation, he said, was “sadly mirrored in other places like Lebanon and Gaza where Palestine refugees are hitting rock bottom.”
“Many told me that all they asked for was a life of dignity; that’s not much to ask for,” he said.
UNRWA has long faced chronic budget shortfalls, which worsened dramatically in 2018 when former US president Donald Trump cut support to the agency. His administration branded UNRWA “irredeemably flawed,” siding with Israeli criticisms of the agency founded in 1949, a year after Israel’s creation.
Israel disputes UNRWA’s policy of extending of refugee status to the descendants of those who were expelled or who fled during the 1948 War of Independence, arguing that it is an anomaly in the UN’s treatment of refugees in general and that the agency should be closed.
US President Joe Biden’s administration fully restored support but UNRWA has said it is still struggling. Last year, UNRWA only raised nearly $1.2 billion of the $1.6 billion it had appealed for, Lazzarini said.
“We cannot and should not be always scrambling to bring in funds to cover our contribution to human rights and stability,” he said, stressing the need for “a more sustainable model of funding… a predictable, long-term and regular source of funding.”