UNWRA begs for extra $167 million in funding in December alone

The UN agency has been hard hit by scandal and the Trump administration withdrawing funding in support of Israel.

Palestinian school children chant slogans during a demonstration August 28 1997 in the Gaza Strip protesting spending cuts by UNWRA.  (photo credit: REUTERS)
Palestinian school children chant slogans during a demonstration August 28 1997 in the Gaza Strip protesting spending cuts by UNWRA.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The UN has put out an appeal to member nations for an extra $167 million of funding for Palestinian refugees for the month of December alone, claiming that programs to fund education, health, and other services will be hard hit if the money is not forthcoming.
The call for aid came at a meeting of the Advisory Commission on the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), held in Jordan on November 25-26, where strategic discussions regarding the work of the agency took place.
“UNRWA needs at least US $167m. between now and the end of the year to be able to continue its programs in education, health, relief, social services, camp improvement, micro-finance, protection and emergency assistance,” acting Commissioner-General Christian Saunders said.
Saunders urged partners to continue their funding of the agency and pleaded with members of the Advisory Committee who were still withholding funds to release them immediately. The meeting also addressed measures to strengthen organizational effectiveness along with increasing transparency, efficiency and accountability, according to a spokesman.
UNRWA has been hit hard by both funding withdrawal and scandal over the last 18 months. In September 2018, the Trump administration announced that it was stopping all funding, calling the agency "irredeemably flawed." The US had previously been the largest single donor, handing over $364m. in 2017, a figure which amounted to nearly 30% of the agency's operations in the region.
Then in November of this year, UNWRA's commissioner-general Pierre Krähenbühl resigned amid a UN investigation into ethical misconduct, following a series of allegations that he and other top officials indulged in nepotism, abuses of power, and in Krähenbühl's case, an affair with a staff member. In the wake of the scandal, several more countries including Switzerland and Belgium put a hold on payments.
“UNRWA has just received overwhelming support at the Fourth Committee of United Nation’s General Assembly, but has also recently faced the most complex combination of challenges in its 70 years of existence,” Saunders said.
“We are working hard to overcome these challenges with the help of our donors and host countries, but we urgently need additional funding if we are to ensure uninterrupted provision of essential services to the more than 5.5 million Palestine refugees we serve.”
The agency is no stranger to controversy, having long been the subject of allegations that monies it received were being improperly used.
Set up in December 1949 to provide aid for Arab refugees living in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, some 5.5 million Palestinians today qualify for aid under the agency's auspices. However, a 2009 report by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy noted that questions have been raised regarding content in school textbooks supplied by UNWRA which promoted a “bitterly hostile attitude to Israel” for the last half a century.
The same report also noted that the existence of the agency created a new category of "citizen refugees," uniquely for Palestinians, tying them perpetually into refugee status.
The agency has also come under fire over the years for not checking beneficiaries against a list of known terrorists, who, under funding rules, are not eligible for international aid.
“UNRWA is a remarkably resilient agency that is undergoing the worst financial crisis in its history and requires the urgent attention and support of the international community," Saunders said, adding "The future of Palestine refugees is in your hands.”