At a conference for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) in Rome on Thursday, the organization received pledges for $100 million but a pending shortfall of $350 million still leaves the agency facing the worst financial crisis in its 68-year history.
The US is the UNRWA’s largest sponsor, providing about one-third of the agency’s total budget. The Trump administration announced in January it was cutting $65 million this year from its budget for UNRWA pending reforms the US wants in the agency. UNRWA officials claim the actual budgetary cut was $300 million because the agency expected the US to provide $365 million in 2018.
The new funding was provided by Qatar, Canada, Switzerland, Turkey, New Zealand, Norway, South Korea, Mexico, Slovakia, India, and France.
“If UNRWA would not exist, if these services were not provided, the security of region would be severely undermined,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters at the conference’s conclusion. “Now it is very clear, it is absolutely essential, that the extraordinary unanimity in political support to UNRWA and its activities translates itself into cash.”
Guterres told the conference that the budgetary shortfall “would have severe impact — a cascade of problems that could push the suffering in disastrous and unpredictable directions.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, who along with his counterparts from Jordan and Sweden co-hosted the meeting made a statement to reporters.
“It is vital and it is necessary to address these very basic services, but also to provide dignity for multitudes of Palestinians and to (protect) many of them from the potential threats of radicalization and terrorism,” he said. “We recognize the important contributions of the United States in the past and look forward that it continues to play its fundamental role in support of UNRWA and in also support of the peace process to enable the establishment of the Palestinian state.”
URWA was established in 1948 to aid Palestinian refugees from the wars against Israel. It is the only UN agency dedicated to helping refugees from a specific region or conflict and is separate from UNHCR, the branch of the UN that aids all other refugees. Unlike the UNHCR, Palestinians do not lose their refugee status after being resettled in a different country. The agency claims to provide health care, education, and social services to an estimated 5 million Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon. A recent survey by the Lebanese government discovered that the actual number of Palestinian refugees in their country was 175,000, one third the number claimed by UNRWA. Since the UNRWA does not put a limit on the refugee status, most of the recipients of UNRWA aid are third and fourth generation descendants of the original refugees.
Investigations into UNRWA have discovered funds being used to support individuals involved in militant activities. UNRWA school textbooks have been discovered to espouse egregious anti-Israel agendas. In 2014, US Senators demanded an impartial investigation into UNRWA’s alleged participation in the 2014 Gaza-Israel conflict, accusing UNRWA of being complicit with Hamas.