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Cash-strapped UNRWA gives donors ultimatum till mid-August

By Laila Azzeh - Aug 04,2015 - Last updated at Aug 05,2015

AMMAN — UNRWA has given donors an ultimatum until mid- August before deciding the fate of the upcoming scholastic year, according to an informed source.

The relief organisation, the only entity dedicated to serve Palestinian refugees, has reached a chronic financial crisis that might jeopardise its role as a safety network for some 5 million Palestinian refugees, suffering from around $101 million in budget deficit.

"No decision has yet been reached on postponing the school year, but UNRWA should take a decision in mid-August, the date on which UNRWA schools should start," Anwar Abu Sakieneh, UNRWA spokesperson in Amman, told The Jordan Times on Tuesday. 

Meanwhile, Jordan reiterated its calls for the international community to intervene to save the relief organisation, the only UN agency that is dedicated to serve a certain national community. 

"UNRWA should be supported as long as the Palestinian refugees' plight exists. This is a legal and ethical responsibility that the world should not let go off," Minister of State for Media Affairs and Communications Mohammad Momani said during a meeting with The Jordan Times’ staff on Monday. 

In a related development, 34 MPs signed a memo calling for an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis, while the House’s Palestine Committee held a meeting and listened to a briefing by Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh and Director General of the Palestinian Affairs Department at the ministry Mahmoud Aqrabawi, along with UNRWA officials and refugee camp representatives.

Head of the committee, Yahya Saud, said the panel listened to the officials’ briefings and will meet later to follow up on the issue, the Jordan News Agency, Petra, reported.

Judeh reiterated the official stand rejecting any trimming of UNRWA’s services. 

With the Kingdom hosting 42 per cent of the total number of Palestinian refugees, Jordan continues its diplomatic contacts to mobilise support for the agency. 

“Jordan cannot bear more burdens. There are 130,000 Syrian students in our public schools and 120,000 in UNRWA-run schools,” said Momani, who is also the government’s spokesperson.  

In recent remarks by Deputy Prime Minster and Education Minister Mohammad Thneibat, he said public schools cannot absorb any new students whether from UNRWA schools or Syrian students not yet enrolled.
The minister said the country is making a humanitarian effort on behalf of the international community in dealing with the Syrian crisis, adding the country should not be left alone in the face of this challenge.
Moreover, he stressed that it is the responsibility of the donor countries to handle such a crisis as well as help UNRWA overcome its financial difficulties, which might lead to a complete shutdown of the agency’s services to 5 million Palestinian refugees, including around 2 million in Jordan alone.

Around 5,000 UNRWA educators out of the 22,000 employed in the agency’s five operation areas are in Jordan, the agency’s figures show. 

In light of this fact, the stumbling financial situation would render thousands of teachers jobless. 

The agency recently noted that it is “alarmed that our current funding crisis may force us to consider a delay in the start of the school year. Such a decision would generate much anxiety and despair for hundreds of thousands of boys and girls”. 

 

“Education lies at the very heart of the identity and dignity of Palestinian refugees and of what UNRWA stands for. Our schools also provide a measure of stability in a very unstable region. Possible delays in opening the school year would also have grave implications for host governments,” UNRWA commissioner general, Pierre Krahenbuhl, said in a statement.

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