UNRWA on brink of collapse, can’t pay salaries, Lazzarini says

Earlier this month UNRWA raised $38 million toward its $100 million shortfall in its $1.2 billion budget, but the remaining gap has left it scrambling for funds.

 UNRWA employees take part in a sit-in demonstration, according to them against anticipated austerity measures within the organisation, in Amman, Jordan November 8, 2021. (photo credit: REUTERS/JEHAD SHELBAK)
UNRWA employees take part in a sit-in demonstration, according to them against anticipated austerity measures within the organisation, in Amman, Jordan November 8, 2021.
(photo credit: REUTERS/JEHAD SHELBAK)

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) is “on the brink of collapse” and can’t pay its November salaries on time, Commissioner-General Phillipe Lazzarini said.

“Decades of investment in excellent services now risk being reversed,” Lazzarini said in a statement he put out about the crisis on Wednesday. He spoke in the aftermath of the meeting the group’s Advisory Commission held in Amman this Monday and Tuesday.

“In meetings with UNRWA’s main partners in the last two days, I called for immediate funds for health/education/social services for Palestine refugees for 2021,” Lazzarini tweeted.

Such funding is particularly important in the absence of any resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he said.

“I reminded donors that in the absence of a political solution that includes Palestinian refugees, UNRWA is irreplaceable for their rights+services as per mandate by UN General Assembly,” Lazzarini said.

Philippe Lazzarini, the Commissioner-General of the UNRWA, looks on during his visit to the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah June 2, 2021. (credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)Philippe Lazzarini, the Commissioner-General of the UNRWA, looks on during his visit to the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah June 2, 2021. (credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)

Earlier this month UNRWA raised $38 million toward its $100 million shortfall in its $1.2 billion budget, but the remaining gap has left it scrambling for funds.

“Last Thursday, I was forced to inform over 28,000 UN personnel that UNRWA does not have sufficient funds to pay their November salaries on time,” Lazzarini told his advisory body on Monday. He warned that this would interrupt services and fuel anger and frustration among Palestinians.

UNRWA services 5.7 million Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Gaza, the West Bank and east Jerusalem. It has been hard-pressed to maintain services in an era of diminished donor funding and political attacks against the organization.

The Trump administration halted America’s annual contribution of $360 million. Both Israel and the US under Donald Trump charged that UNRWA perpetuated rather than resolved the Palestinian refugee issue, and allowed textbooks in its schools that promoted antisemitism and anti-Israel rhetoric.

The Biden administration has restored most of that funding in exchange for reform in the education curriculum.

Lazzarini has pledged a no-tolerance policy toward antisemitism and incitement, but at the same time has warned that such attacks are political in nature and aimed at destroying UNRWA for political reasons.

UNRWA schools, he said, must reflect the reality of the “occupation” that Palestinian children live under and that information should not be erased.

“We need to put an end to sensationalist and baseless accusations which undermine the Agency’s reputation, its funding and the rights of Palestine refugees,” Lazzarini said.