The Commissioner-General of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), Pierre Krähenbühl, launched yesterday urgent appeals totaling $1.2 billion to fund basic services in 2019.
Krähenbühl described the services that need urgent funding as "vital core services and life-saving humanitarian aid for 5.4 million Palestine refugees across the Middle East," noting these funds are needed to "keep UNRWA operations at the same level as in 2018," the UN newsroom reported.
In a thinly-veiled criticism of the US decision to cut funding to UNRWA, he added: "The presentation of the Agency's 2019 priorities and financial requirements comes in the wake of a remarkable global mobilisation to overcome an unprecedented shortfall and existential crisis following the decision by the Agency's largest donor to cut $300 million of its contribution last year."
At the same time, Krähenbühl paid tribute to all UNRWA donor partners: "As we faced the most severe financial challenge in our proud history, it was both humbling and inspiring to have witnessed the extent and generosity of the response from host and donor governments, from within the United Nations and NGO partners, from civil society and individuals. I wish to convey my heartfelt gratitude for this exemplary commitment and solidarity."
The General Commissioner explained: "In 2019, Palestine refugees in the West Bank, as well as in East Jerusalem, Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, will continue to face a range of daunting human development and protection challenges."
"Central to these pressures is the way in which the ongoing occupation of the Palestinian territory and the blockade of Gaza dramatically impact the lives of Palestine refugees," he added.
"The effects of violence, incursions, lack of freedom of movement and employment opportunities, as well as increasing levels of food insecurity and psychological trauma are alarming and expanding."
Krähenbühl also discussed regional challenges, noting: "In Syria, the ongoing conflict has many acute consequences for Palestine refugees in the country and beyond, from displacement to loss of livelihoods, as well as the daily struggle to survive the immense adversity imposed by eight years of war."
Krähenbühl pointed out that the "complete absence" of political and personal horizons is one of the greatest concerns for Palestine refugees. He hailed the UNRWA staff who continue their work amidst the "most difficult and polarised regions of the Middle East".
"My call is, therefore, to all our partners to sustain the generous funding levels achieved individually and collectively in 2018. At stake are the dignity and rights of Palestinian refugees – in particular the right to education for 535,000 girls and boys – as well as regional stability and the defense of robust multilateralism," said the Commissioner-General.
"UNRWA, for its part, remains fully committed to maintaining its reform-mindedness and financial discipline," he added.
Explaining where the money will go, he said: "Some $750 million will be required to continue the Agency's core services, which encompass education, health, and relief and social services and contribute to the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the 2030 Agenda."
"Furthermore, $138 million will be required to provide emergency humanitarian aid to the oPt (Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem) and $277 million will be required in support of the Syria Regional Crisis Emergency Appeal (in Syria and for Palestine refugees from Syria in Lebanon and Jordan).
"Additional funding is required for priority projects, particularly the need for construction projects resulting from conflict (for example in Nahr Al-Bared in Lebanon, and Gaza), as well as initiatives designed to complete programme reforms or strengthen programme delivery."
Krähenbühl also addressed a message to Palestine refugees and UNRWA staff: "During the extreme crisis we faced last year, we promised to show maximum resolve and creativity. We lived up to that commitment and are proud of this."
"At the same time, we remember that the successful campaign to overcome the shortfall came with a cost. Some services were impacted and some staff members lost their jobs, which we deeply regret."
"Out of respect for the refugee community and UNRWA staff, we will continue to demonstrate absolute determination in mobilising political and financial support for the Agency. We will also remain very honest about how difficult it will be and the fact that UNRWA will continue to face major challenges. We must remain united and show the cohesion that was such an important part of our success last year."