Fri 02 Jun 2023 7:01 pm - Jerusalem Time

Guterres warns of the financial collapse of UNRWA

The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, said today, Friday, "The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) is on the brink of financial collapse," calling on donor countries to assume their responsibilities and support UNRWA to fulfill its obligations towards Palestine refugees.

This came in his speech during a meeting of the General Assembly Committee dedicated to pledging to UNRWA, held at the United Nations headquarters in New York, with the aim of increasing countries' support for the agency, which was delivered on his behalf by Director of the United Nations Office Earl Courtney Rattery.

“We meet every year – and every year we face the same paradox,” said Guterres. “On the one hand, we are all aware of the essential role UNRWA plays as a safety net for the most vulnerable, a pillar of regional stability, a catalyst for development, an important tool for conflict prevention, and a lifeline of hope and opportunity for millions. On the other hand, we allow UNRWA to remain stuck in a financial bind, and the growing needs are matched by stagnant funding."

He noted that a number of the UNRWA's major and most reliable donors have recently announced that they may reduce their contributions, adding: "This is very worrying. The agency is already running, with a shortfall of nearly $75 million. Let's be clear: UNRWA is on the verge of financial collapse."

The Secretary-General stressed: "When the future of UNRWA is in the balance, so will the lives of millions of Palestine refugees who depend on its basic services," noting that the agency provides education services to more than half a million girls and boys, health care to about 2 million people, and opportunities Work for young people in Gaza and elsewhere, psychosocial support for millions of children, and a social safety net for nearly half a million of the poorest Palestinians.”

Guterres said: “Behind these facts and figures are countless individual stories about the opportunities created and how UNRWA has changed lives, like the story of Louay Al-Basiouni, who attended UNRWA schools and went on to work with the NASA team that designed a rover that landed on Mars. Or the story of Baraa Abu Askar, who received her education at the UNRWA-affiliated Al-Rimal Elementary School in Gaza before moving abroad to complete her medical studies, is now working on pancreatic cancer treatment.

He added, “Examples like this show how much we all gain if we invest in opportunities for all. Investing in UNRWA means investing in our common future.”

The Secretary-General stated in his speech: "UNRWA was established to support one of the first humanitarian operations of the United Nations in nearly 75 years, and the prospect of peace remains elusive. And if anything, it is receding," noting that the past year 2022 was the deadliest. For Palestinians, since OCHA began systematically documenting casualty figures in 2005. Halfway into the new year, the violence rages non-stop.”

Guterres said, "There is no alternative to a political solution that achieves the vision of two states - Israel and Palestine - living side by side in peace and security, and Jerusalem is the capital of the two states," noting that "the broad lines of this solution are known: they are mentioned in United Nations resolutions, international law and bilateral agreements."

But the facts on the ground - from continued occupation to expanding settlement construction - are working against us. In this bleak picture, UNRWA is one of the few rays of hope, I urge you to nurture and preserve this hope. Do your part and make sure that UNRWA is fully funded. Let's help UNRWA help Palestine refugees.”

UNRWA is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions.

Yesterday, Thursday, the United States announced a donation of $153.7 million to UNRWA to support humanitarian assistance, human development, and protection for Palestine refugees. $13.5 million will be allocated to the emergency appeal for the occupied Palestinian territory, and $17.2 million will be allocated to the emergency appeal for Syria. Lebanon and Jordan.

According to a statement issued by UNRWA, "this donation brings US funding to the Agency this year to $206.8 million, reaffirming the United States' position as the largest donor to UNRWA."

UNRWA and the United States also renewed the framework of cooperation (the framework agreement) for the year 2023-2024, during a virtual signing ceremony this week.

Earlier, UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini said that solving the chronic financial problem facing the agency requires political will to match the support of the various parties to the UNRWA mission, with the resources it provides.

"The problem lies in the contradiction between what UNRWA is expected to do and the resources available to it," Lazzarini added, at a press conference in New York, noting "the unique nature of UNRWA's work, as it is the only agency mandated to provide services similar to those of the government."

The UN official stressed the importance of keeping up with the resources to the needs, warning that "UNRWA will not have funding or cash as of next September to continue operating its schools, and the resources necessary for the operation of its health centers and other vital services are running out."

UNRWA supports about 5.9 million Palestine refugees in its five areas of operations: Jordan, Gaza, the West Bank including East Jerusalem, Lebanon and Syria.


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Guterres warns of the financial collapse of UNRWA