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UNRWA faces 'deep' cash crunch in April, chief says

February 15, 2024 at 3:36 pm

Philippe Lazzarini, Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) holds press conference in Jerusalem on October 27, 2023 [Mostafa Alkharouf/Anadolu via Getty Images]

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) warned today that the cash crunch it is facing next month will get far worse in April if it cannot secure fresh funding or convince donors to resume suspended contributions, Reuters reports.

UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini was speaking in Dublin, where Ireland announced €20 million ($21.6 million) in support for the agency and urged countries that have suspended funding to “urgently rescind that decision” and resume and expand their support.

UNRWA, which provides healthcare, education and other services, has been pitched into crisis since Israel alleged that 12 of its 13,000 staff in Gaza were involved in the 7 October Hamas-led attack on Israel. In response, 18 countries suspended donations to the agency, in spite of the fact Israel has provided no evidence to its claims.

READ: Absence of evidence: Israel’s case against UNRWA

“Our operation will start to be compromised as from March but April will be really the month where we will be under deep, deep, deep negative cashflow,” Lazzarini told a news conference, describing the agency as being under an “existential threat”.

Negative cashflow is when an organisation has more money outgoing than incoming, impacting its ability to sustain itself.

Lazzarini has held extensive consultations with donors, including a trip to Gulf countries and Brussels, in recent days to try to plug UNRWA’s funding shortfall of some $440 million.

Some UNRWA donors, such as the United States and Britain, have indicated they will not resume support until the UN’s internal investigation into the allegations ends. A preliminary report is due to be published in the next several weeks.

Lazzarini said the UN would share some observations with member states on its investigation within four weeks.

“At such a dangerous moment, it would be inconceivable to let UNRWA collapse,” Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin told a news conference.

“People need to wake up internationally about this.”

Israel has repeatedly equated UNRWA staff with Hamas members in efforts to discredit them, providing no proof of the claims, while lobbying hard to have UNRWA closed 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.

READ: UN aid chief warns of possible spillover of Gazans into Egypt