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UNRWA funding crisis strikes fear into Gaza’s refugees

The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) is suffering a severe financial crisis that has apparently forced it to cut costs, worrying Palestinian refugees in the Gaza Strip who depend to a large extent on the agency’s assistance.

On June 15, UN Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl announced that the agency’s fiscal deficit for the current year had reached $101 million, while adding that the UN remained committed to providing badly-needed services for Palestinian refugees.

Marwa Obeid, 45, expressed fear that the crisis could affect the health sector and the distribution of aid to needy families in Gaza.

She added that she and her friends had noticed a recent reduction in the health and educational services provided by UNRWA.

“UNRWA had been distributing $20 in cash assistance for students at UNRWA schools in the Gaza Strip, which my children had benefited from,” she said.

“Recently, however, this has completely stopped, along with the daily meals provided to students, which ended after Israel’s last war against Gaza [in mid-2014],” Obeid added.

Aid provided by UNRWA, she said, was the “only reason” why her and her family were still alive, due to her husband’s numerous health problems.

In a statement to Anadolu Agency, Adnan Abo Hasna, the UNRWA’s spokesman in the Gaza Strip, said the agency’s current fiscal deficit may soon force it to close as many as 700 schools in the five areas that it operates in – namely, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, which collectively host some half million Palestinian children.

“So far, there is no official decision to close any school,” he said. “But the fiscal deficit may lead us not to open the schools and receive students next year.”

According to Abu Hasna, the UNRWA’s 252 schools in the Gaza Strip – which offer services to about 248,000 Palestinian students – will face possible closure if the fiscal deficit isn’t resolved.

It also coincided, the agency added, “with the obvious decline of financial support from donor countries.”

Abdel Sattar Qassem, professor of political science at the West Bank’s Birzeit University, meanwhile, believes the UNRWA crisis may be of a “political” nature.

“The donors’ failure to meet their commitments could be due to regional and international schemes aimed at reducing the agency’s activities and terminating its services,” he told Anadolu Agency.

He added: “This would ultimately mean the end of the cause of the Palestinian refugees.”

Images by MEMO photographer: Mohammad Asad

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