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UNRWA appeals for $90 million to aid Palestinians in crisis-hit Lebanon

UN agency says basic commodities have become out of reach for more than 210,000 refugees due to country’s economic meltdown, with 58% reducing number of meals a day

A Palestinian worker from UNRWA (United Nations Relief and works Agency) sprays a van, carrying bread, as a precaution against the coronavirus, at the closed entrance of Jalil, or Galilee Palestinian refugee camp, in Baalbek, Lebanon, April 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
A Palestinian worker from UNRWA (United Nations Relief and works Agency) sprays a van, carrying bread, as a precaution against the coronavirus, at the closed entrance of Jalil, or Galilee Palestinian refugee camp, in Baalbek, Lebanon, April 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

BEIRUT (AP) — A UN agency appealed Wednesday to the international community to donate tens of millions of dollars to help improve living conditions for Palestinians in crisis-hit Lebanon.

The appeal by the agency for Palestinian refugees, or UNRWA, is asking for an additional $87.5 million to provide Palestinian refugees with cash assistance to the poorest, and to cover hospital expenses as well as transportation for children so that they can go to school.

UNRWA says more than 210,000 Palestinian refugees are among the most vulnerable and that some basic commodities have become out of reach for many as Lebanon sinks deeper into the economic meltdown. It added that more than 58% of Palestinian refugees here have reduced the number of meals they eat every day.

About 400,000 Palestinian refugees and their descendants mostly live in a dozen refugee camps in Lebanon, set up for those who fled or were pushed out during fighting surrounding Israel’s creation in 1948. An additional 27,000 Palestinians fled from Syria over the past decade during its deadly civil war.

The Palestinians in Lebanon are prohibited from working in professional jobs, have few legal protections and cannot own property.

Palestinian refugee Hiam Habib said UNRWA’s assistance was dropping while everything becomes so much more expensive. She spoke from the Palestinian refugee camp of Burj al-Barajneh in southern Beirut, a few miles away from UNRWA’s offices.

A bag of foodstuffs provided by the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) lies in a cart as Palestinians collect food aid following a cease-fire reached after an 11-day military conflict between Gaza’s Hamas rulers and Israel, in Gaza City, on May 22, 2021. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

“We urge UNRWA to find solutions for us otherwise I will end up with my family in the street,” she said, sitting next to an electric heater, turned on to minimum power because it was working on a neighborhood’s private generator.

Lebanon’s crisis erupted in October 2019, rooted in decades of corruption and mismanagement by the ruling class. It has left tens of thousands of people jobless, and nearly 80% of the country’s population of 6 million, including about 1.5 million Syrian and Palestinian refugees, live in poverty. The Lebanese pound has lost more than 90% of its value, wiping out the purchasing power of middle-class and low-income families.

“The situation is dire,” said Claudio Cordone, director of UNRWA Affairs, Lebanon. He called on the agency’s partners to work together to help so that Palestinian refugees, “wherever they are, can live in dignity as they deserve.”

The resumption of US support for the agency last year — which had been halted by the Trump administration — was offset by a reduction in funding by other donors, UNRWA’s head Philippe Lazzarini said in November.

Cordone told The Associated Press that UNRWA is struggling to ensure funding and needs the international community to match their political commitment to UNRWA.

Lebanon’s UN humanitarian coordinator, Najat Rochdi said tensions are growing as families increase the pressure on the agency to deliver regular services, as well as increase the relief assistance amid a sharp devaluation of the Lebanese pound.

Wednesday’s appeal aims “to ensure that thousands of Palestine refugees families live in dignity and that Palestinian children don’t lose their future,” said Rochdi.

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