UN agency for Palestinian refugees seeks $1.6 billion to address ‘chronic’ budget shortfalls

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The United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, announced on Tuesday an appeal for $1.6 billion to help address “chronic” budget shortfalls.

It is the latest in a long series of warnings from UNRWA of possible deep cuts if the international community fails to provide more support.

“The agency’s chronic budget shortfalls threaten the livelihoods and well-being of the Palestinian refugees UNRWA serves and pose a serious threat to the agency’s ability to sustain its services,” said the director of the agency, Philippe Lazzarini, in a press release.

Funding for UNRWA suffered a major blow in 2018 when former US President Donald Trump cut his support for the agency. His administration called UNRWA “irretrievably flawed”, siding with Israeli critics of the agency founded in 1949, a year after Israel was established.

US President Joe Biden’s administration has restored some support, announcing a $150 million donation last April, followed by an announcement the following month of another $32 million. In December, the United States announced it would funnel an additional $99 million to the United Nations body, which a month earlier had warned it faced an “existential threat” over budget gaps.

In this photo taken on February 2, 2020, a child stands next to a sack of flour as people come to receive food aid from a United Nations Relief and Works Agency distribution center (UNRWA) in Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip. (Said Khatib/AFP)

When he took over funding for the ailing agency, Washington said he had UNRWA’s commitment to “zero tolerance” for anti-Semitism, racism or discrimination. The Biden administration continues to call on the agency to pass a series of reforms aimed at greater transparency, and says it will be held to account.

Nevertheless, Jerusalem has long pushed for the closure of UNRWA, arguing that it helps perpetuate the conflict with the Palestinians since it confers refugee status on the descendants of those originally displaced during the independence war. of Israel in 1948. The claim was echoed by Trump in his 2018 decision to stop funding the agency.

Pro-Israel advocates have also long criticized UNRWA for its manuals, which they say encourage incitement. Israeli watchdog groups have accused UNRWA’s programs of promoting violence and denying Israel’s right to exist.

The agency has 28,000 employees and provides services such as education and health care to more than five million registered Palestinians in the Palestinian territories, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

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