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UNRWA: Some countries are reducing aid to Palestinians

May 26, 2023 at 3:53 pm

A view of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) building as UNRWA personnel strike demanding a salary increase because of the high cost of living, in Gaza City, Gaza [Ali Jadallah/Anadolu Agency]

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) said yesterday that some countries, which it did not name, have informed it they will be significantly reducing the financial aid they provide the organisation.

There are some countries that informed UNRWA that they are reducing their financial aid by a large percentage, Adnan Abu Hasna, UNRWA spokesman, said in a radio interview according to Sawa news agency.

He pointed to the existence of renewed contacts and relations with Arab donors in light of the growing needs of refugees and the increase in their number.

He touched on the Advisory Committee conference that will be held in the Lebanese capital, Beirut, next month, stressing that it is very important given the presence of donors and host countries.

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He explained that the financial deficit that the UN agency is suffering from is very large and worrisome.

Abu Hasna added that despite the firm political support for the agency and the renewal of its mandate for three years, there is a decline in donations on the ground.

The UNRWA was created in 1949 by a UN mandate to serve Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Gaza Strip, West Bank and Jerusalem. It supports approximately 5.9 million Palestine refugees.

For years, Israel has been lobbying hard to have UNRWA closed down as it is the only UN agency to have a specific mandate to look after the basic needs of Palestinian refugees. If the agency no longer exists, argues Israel, then the refugee issue must no longer exist, and the legitimate right for Palestinian refugees to return to their land will be unnecessary. Israel has denied that right of return since the late 1940s, even though its own membership of the UN was made conditional upon Palestinian refugees being allowed to return to their homes and land.

UNRWA depends almost entirely on voluntary donations from UN member states, making it extremely vulnerable to pro-Israel lobby groups which are influential in various key capitals.

The agency faced severe financial difficulties while US President Donald Trump was in power as his administration stopped donations altogether in 2018. Though some of these funds were later reinstated they failed to fill the funding gap.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) then sharply reduced its funding of the body in 2020. 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. This at a time when the UAE began normalising ties with the occupation authorities, signing the so-called ‘Abraham Accords’ in September of the same year.

The UK also 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 the cuts put it in the second tier of contributors.

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