The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) has been able to make up the deficit in its budget following the US move to stop making its usual donations to the agency.
According to informed Lebanese sources, many countries, including the Gulf States, raised their combined donations to $122 million to help cover the deficit, while other Arab and European countries contributed $50 million. Lebanon continues to hope for continued efforts by donor countries to fund UNRWA in 2019.
Despite concerns about the Agency being able to overcome the deficit, it has not only been able to do so but has also been able to cover emergency projects amounting to $1.2 billion. UNRWA has managed to attract new funding channels, including a new Turkish source that is funded by the compulsory Islamic alms known as zakat. A number of similar funds have been set up in Indonesia and Malaysia, with others in the pipeline to help the UN Agency.
A major project of UNRWA in Lebanon is the reconstruction of the Nahr Al-Bared camp for Palestinian refugees in the north of the country. It was destroyed completely by the Lebanese army in 2007 and UNRWA has been struggling to get the funds for its reconstruction to house around 40,000 refugees. Participants in a special conference in Brussels last April pledged $100 million to finish the project, of which $24m was pledged by Germany.
There are now 12 official UN-run Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon catering for around 450,000 registered refugees. There were 15 camps but three have been destroyed over the years in various conflicts. There is concern that donor countries will bend to US pressure — which originates in Israel — and also cut donations to UNRWA, which the Israelis want to have closed down. If they are able to achieve this, then the Palestinian refugees and their legitimate right to return will, they believe, largely cease to exist as a major issue. Europe, however, insists that it will continue to stand by and support UNRWA.
Since Donald Trump became President of the United States, he has taken a negative attitude towards his country’s funding for all UN bodies, not just UNRWA. He believes that the UN should find other funding sources. Trump’s stance has called into question the funding of UN peacekeepers in southern Lebanon, UNIFIL, among other “value for money” queries that he has raised.