UNRWA to issue ATM cards to vulnerable Iraqi Palestinian refugees in Syria

25 May 2011

23 May 2011

Vulnerable Palestinian refugees who have sought refuge in Syria from violence in Iraq will be able – as of today – to withdraw their monthly allowances under UNRWA’s cash assistance programme from automated teller machines (ATMs) under a new Agency initiative in its Syria field.

The introduction of an ATM card system in cooperation with a private bank in Syria is a step towards streamlining the distribution of monthly financial assistance to the refugees. The banking agreement was signed between UNRWA and Banque Bemo Saudi Fransi (BBSF) on 27 March 2011.

Under this pilot, cash assistance will be uploaded by June 2011 to some 800 vulnerable Palestinian families’ cards with enough funds every month to cover shelter, food and basic medicines. In an emergency context, this will give both the beneficiaries and the Agency the advantage of time and cost savings.

"UNRWA is very pleased to launch this initiative in Syria as it enables vulnerable refugees to withdraw funds at nearby ATM points at their convenience, rather than having to commute to a central distribution point to wait to collect their allowances," says Helene Songe, Manager of Palestinian Iraqi Projects at UNRWA in Syria. “There are also benefits to the project itself from the simplicity, speed, safety, and low cost of electronic cash transfers compared to the previous system.”

Palestinian refugees fleeing the consequences of war and targeted violence in Iraq live under extremely difficult socio-economic conditions in Syria. They are suffering greatly due to the lack of legal status rendering them unable to obtain work permits. Various donor countries, such as the United States, the European Commission’s humanitarian aid department ECHO, Australia, Switzerland, Italy and Denmark have been supporting UNRWA since 2006 in providing emergency assistance to Iraqi Palestinian refugees in Syria in the areas of relief, education and comprehensive health care.

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Background Information

UNRWA is a United Nations agency established by the General Assembly in 1949 and is mandated to provide assistance and protection to a population of some 5 million registered Palestine refugees. Its mission is to help Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank and the Gaza Strip to achieve their full potential in human development, pending a just solution to their plight. UNRWA’s services encompass education, health care, relief and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, and microfinance.

Financial support to UNRWA has not kept pace with an increased demand for services caused by growing numbers of registered refugees, expanding need, and deepening poverty. As a result, the Agency's General Fund (GF), supporting UNRWA’s core activities and 97 per cent reliant on voluntary contributions, has begun each year with a large projected deficit. Currently the deficit stands at more than US$ 106  million.

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