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‘UNRWA to continue serving Palestinian refugees despite regional turmoil’

By Laila Azzeh - Nov 16,2015 - Last updated at Nov 16,2015

DEAD SEA — UNRWA continues to offer a safe haven for Palestinian refugees, despite operating at a time of regional turmoil that complicates its mission, the agency's commissioner general, Pierre Krahenbuhl, said Monday.

After surviving a "chronic" budget deficit this summer that threatened to affect its educational services — considered one of its most important contributions to the Palestinian refugee community — UNRWA is back "on its feet again", according to Krahenbuhl.

At a press conference held on the sidelines of the UNRWA advisory commission meeting, he noted that the $101 million budget deficit the agency suffered from earlier this year was completely closed thanks to the financial mobilisation and austerity measures carried out by the agency.

UNRWA projects an $81 million deficit in its 2016 $608 million budget of core activities, which include health, education, relief and social services.

"In 2016, the initial amount of projected shortfall was $135 million; we have managed to bring it down through internal steps to $81 million. This is a great step and now we are ready to turn to donors for support," Krahenbuhl told reporters.

Addressing refugee concerns over donor support, he underlined that "donors are not reducing their contributions, on the contrary, they have been increasing their support, but the needs of Palestinian refugees are growing [at a] much faster speed, causing financial gaps".

"There is also talk that UNRWA has been reducing its services and this is absolutely untrue. We have never provided more services to Syria… we are saying to the international community that UNRWA is very much alive and active today. We have staff working every day amid unstable conditions," the commissioner general stressed.

On the other hand, the UN official said he “understands” where these concerns are coming from, particularly as the financial crisis hit the agency at the “worst timing possible”.

“The positive thing is that the strategy we used this summer to close the financial deficit was successful with the support of our donors and host countries, resulting in the opening of 700 schools for half-a-million students,” he added.

Donors and host countries at the regular two-day advisory commission meeting are discussing the agency’s operational and financial contexts, particularly the difficult situation the 5.2 million Palestinian refugees are facing today.

Participants at the meeting are also looking into ways to ensure that the financial crisis the agency suffered from does not happen again.

“The world today is very much focused and concentrated on the conflict in Syria, the situation in Iraq, Yemen, Libya and elsewhere... but... it would be of great risk for the world to neglect, overlook or forget the plight and fate of Palestinian refugees,” Krahenbuhl said.

Presenting a briefing on the “very difficult” situation of refugees in Syria and Gaza today, he noted that 15,000 Palestinian refugees from Syria have taken refuge in Jordan, 45,000 in Lebanon, 45,000 in Turkey and around 45,000 in Egypt.

The agency’s largest donor continues to be the US, which channelled $350 million to UNRWA this year, followed by the EU, the UK and Saudi Arabia respectively.

“For the first time, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE presented UNRWA with $50 million for its core services. They used to respond to our emergency appeals, but never to our core services. This is really great,” the commissioner general said, noting that the money covered half the agency’s deficit for 2015.

Underscoring that UNRWA’s mandate is “safe and protected”, Krahenbuhl said he presented his annual report to the UN General Assembly in New York last week, where he sensed “unprecedented” support for the agency — the only UN entity dedicated to serve a specific national community.


“I can tell you that the level of support to UNRWA and its mandate is overwhelming among the [General Assembly] member states, so I can tell you that UNRWA’s mandate rests safely today.”

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