UNRWA Commissioner General Pierre Krähenbühl issued a memorandum two days ago calling for more conservatism in spending due to the agency’s budget deficit, and for a further reduction in the humanitarian provision to 5.5 million registered Palestinian refugees. Such provision includes education, medical services and humanitarian relief. On 22 May, a letter from UNRWA was circulated which said that the agency would stop the shelter allowance provided to the Palestinian refugees displaced from Syria and now in Lebanon, with effect from July this year; it amounts to $100.
I believe that whether or not the Arab countries pay the sums that they pledged to contribute, amounting to 8 per cent of the overall budget, or whether or not any other countries commit to support the agency’s work (taking the economic situation and political considerations into account), there is no reason for UNRWA to reduce its level of service provision. As long as there is an international commitment to its work, the UN Central Fund must intervene and fill the void in the UNRWA budget.
I would go so far as to repeat my standing statement in this regard, that UNRWA should be funded like any other UN organisation from the overall budget of the international body. Without this near-guaranteed funding, it will be prone to political blackmail from one country or another. This is especially so if the interests of such countries coincide with those of Israel, which wants to see an end to refugee status for the Palestinians registered with UNRWA; the cancellation of the refugees’ legitimate right of return; and UNRWA closed down or responsibility for its services transferred to another international organisation, the Palestinian Authority or the Arab League, in coordination with the host Arab countries.
Amazing as it seems, UNRWA depends entirely on voluntary contributions from donor countries that are given either in cash or kind. The UNRWA Advisory Committee holds regular meetings every six months, attended by the 25 member states, including, of course, representatives from UNRWA’s areas of operation (the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon ), along with three observers. During these meetings, the committee tries to reach a consensus, provide advice and help the agency’s Commissioner General.
UNRWA was established in accordance with Resolution 302 adopted by the UN General Assembly on 8 December, 1949. The decision to establish the agency was based on the fifth article of the resolution, as well as article 20 of Resolution 194, which calls for Palestinian refugees to be granted their right to return to their cities and villages in the Palestinian territories occupied in 1948, and that compensation should be paid and their property returned. This means that there is an international commitment to the continuation of the agency’s work until the reason for which it was established in the first place is no longer valid, which would be when the right of return is implemented.
Regardless of whether or not the donor countries actually pay the amounts that they have pledged, the consequences of the reductions in service provision will not only include a negative impact on the humanitarian situation of the refugees, but will also contribute to more chaos in the Arab region. There are serious security implications arising from the inevitable increase in poverty and hardship which will leave refugees open to exploitation by human traffickers and extremists. That is why UNRWA’s services cannot be reduced; the cost will be too much to bear.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.