At Arab League Summit, UNRWA Commissioner-General urges Arab countries to renew financial commitment to Palestine Refugees

19 May 2023
UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini. (C)UNRWA Photos.

UNRWA currently needs US$ 1.4 billion for operations, programmes and emergency response.  


At the request of the UN Secretary-General, the Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), Philippe Lazzarini, attended the Arab League Summit in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia today.  

In his bilateral talks he highlighted the Agency’s dire funding crisis, amid unprecedented needs of Palestine Refugees. The Commissioner-General urgently called on rich Arab states to reinstate or increase their financial support as the Agency struggles to deliver on its mandate and to provide critical services to the Palestine Refugees.

“Support to Palestine Refugees is a collective obligation, including from Arab countries. Longtime historic partners have decreased their funding in the last few years, dramatically affecting our ability to maintain quality services, including education, health care and social protection. While countries hosting Palestine Refugees face their own acute political and financial challenges, I am hereby calling on Arab donors to support UNRWA and be among our closest partners,” said Lazzarini. 

Over the last decade, UNRWA has suffered from underfunding every year, with a heavy toll on the quality of some services in its areas of operations. Meanwhile, refugees’ challenges continued to massively increase amid unprecedented poverty, unemployment, financial crises, neglect and in some cases conflicts and natural disasters.

“Arab countries were among the founders of UNRWA and the most vocal supporters of the rights of Palestine Refugees. Today, as UNRWA risks collapse, I hear supportive statements from the region to Palestinians and urge that they be extended to the refugees through UNRWA,” added Lazzarini. 

In 2018, Arab Donors’ funding to the Agency made up one-fourth of its total funding. Since then, it has massively dropped, severely deepening the financial crisis the Agency struggles with. 

“While we are one of the largest UN agencies in the world, we live hand to mouth. At the end of every month, we often are uncertain whether we can pay salaries to our nearly 30,000 staff. UNRWA staff is the backbone and the engine of the Agency’s basic services: teachers, medical workers, engineers and logisticians. They should not live in constant uncertainty and limbo, and neither should the Palestine refugees they serve,” concluded Lazzarini. 

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Notes to Editors  

  • At the beginning of the year, UNRWA appealed for US$ 1.6 billion in support of its programmes, operations and emergency response across Syria, Lebanon, the West Bank (including East Jerusalem), the Gaza Strip and Jordan. 
  • Over the years, the Agency has put in place several measures to utilize the very little financial contributions it received from donors, tightening its overall spending and improving its efficiency and cost control. 
  • To date, UNRWA has only received less than 25 per cent of its financial requirements, or US$ 364 million. UNRWA still needs US$ 1.3 billion.
  • The plight of Palestine refugees is the longest unresolved refugee crisis in the world today. UNRWA continues to maintain an active registration of 5.9 million Palestine Refugees. 
  • UNRWA is the only UN agency that operates a fully-fledged school system of over 700 schools. These schools currently provide education to over half a million children. 
  • In 2022, UNRWA health centres provided 7.9 million health consultations across the Agency’s five fields of operation. 
  • UNRWA has been facing chronic underfunding for the last 10 years. The Agency started this year with debts of US$ 75 million carried over from 2022.   
Background Information: 

UNRWA is the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. The United Nations General Assembly established UNRWA in 1949 with a mandate to provide humanitarian assistance and protection to registered Palestine refugees in the Agency’s area of operations pending a just and lasting solution to their plight.

UNRWA operates in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, The Gaza Strip, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. 

Tens of thousands of Palestine refugees who lost their homes and livelihoods due to the 1948 conflict continue to be displaced and in need of support, nearly 75 years on.

UNRWA helps Palestine Refugees achieve their full potential in human development through quality services it provides in education, health care, relief and social services, protection, camp infrastructure and improvement, microfinance, and emergency assistance. UNRWA is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions.


For more information, please contact:

Tamara Alrifai
UNRWA Spokesperson/ Director of External Relations & Communications
+962 (0)79 090 0140