Commissioner-General letter to staff on the urgency of UNRWA's financial situation

09 November 2020
Commissioner-General letter to staff on the urgency of UNRWA's financial situation

Dear colleagues,

I am writing to share with you an update on the urgency of UNRWA’s financial situation.

This year has been an exceptionally difficult year, with the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, the subsequent economic and financial downfall and the unpredictable political environment to name a few. Once again, these developments have hit disproportionally the most vulnerable and in particular Palestine refugees.

Despite these difficulties and uncertainties, I decided in September that UNRWA school children should go back to learning, while our efforts to secure the necessary funds in 2020 for all our services, including the full salaries for the staff, were ongoing.

To preserve the right to education of nearly 540,000 Palestine refugee girls and boys, I forged ahead, confident that all our donors would live up to their political support to the UNRWA mandate, renewed through an overwhelming vote just one year ago, with matching financial contributions.

Today, and despite continuous outreach to donors and extraordinary cost reduction measures, it pains me to inform you that the Agency has not yet secured sufficient funding under the Programme Budget to fully pay the salaries of all our staff for the month of November 2020.

To date, most of our regular and committed donors have disbursed their pledged contributions. Some of them have topped up their financial support this year to help UNRWA maintain all its services running, for which we are thankful. However, and while my current engagement with donors remains positive, I have no firm indication that additional funds will be received by UNRWA before the end of November 2020.

Over the last few weeks, together with the Agency’s external relations team, I have stepped up  outreach to donors. Since my last update to you, I travelled to Riyadh, Abu Dhabi, Berlin, Doha and Copenhagen, and am currently engaging with the European Union, Switzerland, Ireland, Spain, the UK and Kuwait among others. In all my outreach to donors, I continue to stress the centrality of UNRWA services to the dignity, rights, and wellbeing of Palestine refugees.  I also kept closely informed the UN Secretary General, who remains extremely supportive of the Agency and particularly of our outreach efforts to donors.

If we do not receive additional funds by the end of November, UNRWA will be forced to implement partial payment for November salaries of all staff funded under the Programme Budget. The non- paid portion of the November salary, will be deferred and paid as soon as we receive additional funding. This measure is necessary to preserve all our services and jobs.

Furthermore, and if no additional funding is received by the end of November to cover salaries in December, I will have to consider additional measures.

I am fully aware, that the partial salary payment, if implemented this month, will impact your and your families’ financial security. It also comes at a time when many of you are already struggling with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, its socio-economic consequences and the ongoing political uncertainties that you experience every day. I have warned the UN Member-States several times that failure to fully deliver on our mandate will cause immense distress to Palestine refugees and UNRWA staff, the majority of whom are part of the Palestine refugee community.

This is a decision that no Commissioner-General would want to take and I will leave no stone unturned to raise the necessary funds. I beseech you to be patient, show solidarity and continue with our mission in the service of the 5.7 million Palestine refugees we serve. They need us today more than ever. While there have been serious funding crises before, the Agency has always been able to weather the storm with the support of our committed donors, the Host countries and our dedicated staff.  I will spare no efforts to ensure that this year too, UNRWA will survive the financial crisis. 

Together we will overcome this unprecedented situation.

Going forward my priority will be to shield the Agency and our staff against such crisis in the future and ensure we can provide predictable services to Palestine refugees until a just and lasting solution.  To achieve this, I am planning to convene in the first quarter of next year an international conference in support of Palestine refugees and UNRWA.

Background Information: 

UNRWA is confronted with an increased demand for services resulting from a growth in the number of registered Palestine refugees, the extent of their vulnerability and their deepening poverty. UNRWA is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions and financial support has been outpaced by the growth in needs. As a result, the UNRWA programme budget, which supports the delivery of core essential services, operates with a large shortfall. UNRWA encourages all Member States to work collectively to exert all possible efforts to fully fund the Agency’s programme budget. UNRWA emergency programmes and key projects, also operating with large shortfalls, are funded through separate funding portals. UNRWA is a United Nations agency established by the General Assembly in 1949 and mandated to provide assistance and protection to some 5.4 million Palestine refugees registered with UNRWA across its five fields of operation. Its mission is to help Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip achieve their full human development potential, pending a just and lasting solution to their plight. UNRWA services encompass education, health care, relief and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, protection and microfinance.

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