UN Palestinian refugee agency seeks $1.6b

Published : 25 Jan 2023 09:40 PM

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, appealed Tuesday for $1.6 billion for its work in 2023, as it struggles to overcome chronic budget shortfalls.

UNRWA -- which provides services to nearly six million Palestinians registered in the Palestinian territories, including Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, as well as in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria -- warned that "compounding challenges" had placed it under "immense strain".

The agency, which counts nearly 30,000 staff -- most of them Palestinian  refugees -- runs more than 700 schools that offer education to half a million  children, and provides health, sanitation and social services, including food  and cash assistance.

Out of the $1.6 billion requested, UNRWA said $848 million was needed for  such core services.

It said another $781.6 million was needed for emergency operations.

UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini said the agency played "an indispensable role"  for millions of Palestinian refugees.

"We work to maintain the delivery of basic services in an incredibly  difficult financial and political context," he said in a statement.

The agency warned that most Palestinian refugees now live below the poverty  line and a growing number are dependent on UNRWA for assistance, sometimes  for their "sheer survival".

Lazzarini said he had just returned from a trip to Syria where he had  "witnessed firsthand indescribable suffering and despair".

That situation, he said, was "sadly mirrored in other places like Lebanon and 

Gaza where Palestine refugees are hitting rock bottom."

"Many told me that all they asked for was a life of dignity; that's not much 

to ask for."

UNRWA has long faced chronic budget shortfalls, which worsened dramatically 

in 2018 when former US president Donald Trump cut support to the agency. 

His administration branded UNRWA "irredeemably flawed," siding with Israeli 

criticisms of the agency founded in 1949, a year after Israel's creation. 

US President Joe Biden's administration has fully restored support but UNRWA 

has said it is still struggling. 

Last year, UNRWA only raised nearly $1.2 billion of the $1.6 billion it had 

appealed for, Lazzarini said. 

"We cannot and should not be always scrambling to bring in funds to cover our 

contribution to human rights and stability," Lazzarini said, stressing the 

need for "a more sustainable model of funding... a predictable, long-term and 

regular source of funding."