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UNRWA unable to pay 28,000 employees due to major funding crisis

Palestinians hold placards as they gather during a protest against food aid cuts by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), outside the UNRWA in Khan Yunis, Gaza on 20 January 2021. [Mustafa Hassona - Anadolu Agency]
Palestinians hold placards as they gather during a protest against food aid cuts by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), outside the UNRWA in Khan Yunis, Gaza on 20 January 2021. [Mustafa Hassona - Anadolu Agency]

UNRWA is unable to pay its 28,000 employees due to a major funding crisis, Philippe Lazzarini, head of the United Nations Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA), said yesterday.

UNRWA has run schools, clinics and food distribution programmes for millions of registered Palestinian refugee families across the Middle East since they were expelled by Zionist gangs in 1948.

Speaking to reporters, Lazzarini warned of potential cuts in vital services to millions of refugees amid a global pandemic.

UNRWA staff went on strike on Monday after being informed last week that salaries would be delayed, but halted the action following mediation.

"If UNRWA health services are compromised in the middle of a global pandemic, COVID-19 vaccination rollout will come to an end," Lazzarini said. "Maternal and child care will stop, half a million girls and boys not knowing if they can continue learning, and over two million of the poorest Palestinian refugees will not get cash and food assistance."

He continued: "The humanitarian needs of Palestinian refugees keep increasing while funding to the agency has stagnated since 2013."

Lazzarini said the agency raised enough donations at a recent conference in Brussels to cover some 48 per cent of its budget in 2022 and 2023, however, he said: "I am still not yet in a position to say when the November salaries will be paid."

A teacher at a school in Gaza run by UNRWA told MEMO: "We have not been paid yet. I know there is a severe financial and funding crisis, but I believe all of this is happening due to Israeli pressure on the donor states as it asks them to stop funding the organisation ahead of dismantling it."

The organisation currently offers its services to about 5.3 million Palestinian refugees in the occupied territories, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

It has faced severe financial difficulties since the US administration of President Donald Trump stopped donations altogether in 2018. Though some of these funds have been reinstated, they have failed to fill the funding gap.

Moreover, the United Arab Emirates sharply reduced its funding of the body in 2020, an UNRWA spokesman revealed earlier this year. Sami Mshasha said that the UAE donated $51.8 million to UNRWA in 2018 and again in 2019, but in 2020 it gave the agency just $1 million.

While the UK had more than halved its funds for UNRWA from £42.5 million ($57.2 million) in 2020 to £20.8 million ($28 million) in 2021. The UK was the third largest overall donor to UNRWA in 2020, but its latest cut puts it in the second tier of contributors.

UNRWA at 70: Palestinian Refugees in Context

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