UNRWA holds pledging conference at UNHQ in New York
Twenty-two UN member states are planning to pledge US$ 100 million to support next year’s budget of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA, and several more indicated their contributions would be forthcoming or are pending approval by the respective national parliaments. Donors made their pledges during a meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee created by the General Assembly as the main forum to announce donor support for the 65-year-old Agency, which provides educational, health, relief and social services for some 5 million Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank and Gaza. US$ 100 million would cover a part of the basic needs of the Agency to ensure the uninterrupted delivery of essential services in education, health, relief. Provided these pledges and other expected contributions materialise, and thanks to strict internal control measures, the Agency expects to face a deficit of USD 81 million, lower than previous years.
In his opening statement, Mogens Lykketoft, President of the United Nations General Assembly, thanked donor countries for their ongoing support and their additional efforts in bridging UNRWA’s financial gap. He stressed that “Against the backdrop of unrest in the Middle East, the devastation caused by the Syria conflict, the recent clashes in Jerusalem and the West Bank, the slow pace of the Gaza reconstruction, and the waves of refugees leaving the region to find shelter in Europe, it is time to change the paradigm: UNRWA and the rest of the UN needs be strengthened and not weakened. We, the International Community, have created this Agency to provide decent living conditions to Palestine refugees. We, the International Community, must ensure that it has the means to carry out its mandate. It is in the interest of all of us to make sure this community does not feel abandoned by the countries of the world.”
Sandra Mitchell, Deputy Commissioner-General of UNRWA, then said UNRWA was “emerging from a financial crisis that had been unprecedented in its severity and in the pain it caused its beneficiaries”. She commended the tremendous effort and support from partners, including donors and host governments, thanks to which sufficient funds to address the $101 million funding shortfall had been secured. She outlined the next phase of dealing with the financial crisis based on two key actions: “the pursuit of robust internal efficiency reforms through prioritization, cost efficiency, and innovative management of limited resources as well as a heightened fundraising outreach and direct engagement with donors in the region and elsewhere”.
Ms. Mitchell stressed that “education, including in emergencies, had become a vital element of UNRWA’s assistance to Palestinians in Syria and neighbouring countries. Without education and its sense of dignity and hope for a better life, people would have nothing else to turn to, and many undertook the perilous journey to Europe and elsewhere”.
Furthermore, she outlined the increasingly grave operational context in which UNRWA worked and which made the need for its services all the greater. “The civil war in Syria persisted with relentless barbarity; in Gaza, the blockade continued to affect every aspect of the population’s lives and restricted UNRWA’s work; in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, escalating violence and the denial of rights and dignity under an increasingly restrictive and destructive occupation regime remained a powerful driver behind the need for UNRWA services. And in Lebanon, in addition to the established community highly reliant on UNRWA, some 45,000 Palestine refugees from Syria were in desperate need of its assistance which continued to decline in the face of financial scarcity”, she said. Ms Mitchell underlined the vital role played by hosts of Palestine refugees, a point reiterated also by a significant number of UN Member States present at the meeting.
Concluding, Ms. Mitchell stressed that the need for partnership and the financial viability of the Agency would be a collective responsibility. Until a just and lasting solution was found to the plight of Palestine refugees, donors had to remain committed to ensuring that UNRWA could deliver vital services to Palestinians.
Sweden: 40 m USD; Italy: 10 m USD; Luxembourg: 3.75 m Euro; Turkey: 1.5 m USD; Argentina: 15,000 USD; Czech Republic: 123,000 USD; Austria: 1.55 m Euro; Belgium: 18.75 m Euro (2015-2017); Switzerland: 21 m Swiss Franc; UAE: 1.8 m USD; Korea: 200,000 USD.
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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