GENEVA - UNWRA, the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, is appealing for $1.6 billion to provide health, education and protection needs for millions of Palestinian refugees in the occupied Palestinian territory, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon.
Nearly 6 million Palestinian refugees reside in this volatile region. Most of them live below the poverty line and are hanging on by a thread. UNRWA does not assist all of the refugees but plays an indispensable role in the lives of millions.
It provides primary health care for about 2 million Palestinians in the region. It runs more than 700 schools, providing an education to more than half a million children. Its staff of nearly 30,000 dispenses other essential services, including cash and food.
UNRWA Commissioner-General Phillippe Lazzarini says there is no alternative to the services UNRWA is providing in the absence of a political solution for the Palestinian refugees. However, he warns that UNRWA will not be able to continue this lifesaving operation without a more predictable, long term and regular source of funding.
He says many countries have decided to decrease their overseas budgets. And this, he says, has an immediate impact upon UNRWA, which is very dependent on cash.
"Then you heard me also many times talking about the general contribution coming from the Arab countries, which have also substantially decreased over the last few years. And I keep engaging with the countries of the region to have them back as a proper partner of the agency," said Lazzarini.
Lazzarini says he is increasingly concerned about the outcome of elections in donor countries. This is because the government coalition that emerges might be less supportive of the Palestinians and hence less supportive to an agency like UNRWA.
"In fact, the reliability the agency enjoyed until, I would say, 2010, 2012. As long as the Israel-Palestinian conflict was still a priority on the international agenda, this reliability and predictability was gone. We saw it in 2018 with the decision to defund the organization by the former Trump Republican administration," said Lazzarini.
He says the situation has taken a turn for the better under the Biden administration. He says Washington resumed in full its contribution of $340 million dollars to UNRWA last year. This makes the United States the main donor of the agency, followed by Germany and the European Union.