Guterres: ‘UNRWA on verge of financial collapse’

Middle East Monitor  /  June 3, 2023

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres announced on Friday that the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) is “on the verge of financial collapse,” calling on donor countries to shoulder their responsibilities and support UNRWA to fulfil their obligations towards Palestinian refugees.

This came in his speech during a meeting of the General Assembly Committee held at the UN headquarters in New York to announce voluntary contributions to UNRWA with the aim of increasing countries’ support for the agency, which was delivered on his behalf by Chief de Cabinet Earle Courtenay Rattray.

Guterres stated: “We meet every year – and every year, we face the same paradox. On the one hand, we are all aware of the essential role UNRWA plays as a safety net for the most vulnerable, a pillar of regional stability, a catalyst for development, an important tool for conflict prevention and a lifeline of hope and opportunity for millions. On the other hand, we allow UNRWA to remain stuck in a financial bind, and the growing needs are matched by stagnant funding.”

He noted that a number of UNRWA’s major and most reliable donors have recently announced that they may reduce their contributions, stating: “This is very worrying. The agency is already running with a shortfall of nearly $75 million. Let’s be clear: UNRWA is on the verge of financial collapse.”

The secretary-general stressed: “When the future of UNRWA is in the balance, so will the lives of millions of Palestine refugees who depend on its basic services.” He also added that the agency provides education services to over half a million children, healthcare to about two million people, job opportunities for the youth in Gaza and elsewhere, psychological and social support for millions of children and a social safety net to about half a million of the poorest Palestinians.

“Behind these facts and figures are countless individual stories of opportunities created and of lives forever changed. The story of Loay Elbasyouni, who attended UNRWA schools and went on to work for the team at NASA that designed the Perseverance rover that landed on Mars. Or the story of Bara’a Abu Asakar, who was educated at the UNRWA Rimal Elementary Co-Ed school in Gaza before moving abroad to complete her medical studies. Today, she is working on a cure for pancreatic cancer. It is examples like these that demonstrate how much all of us gain if we invest in opportunities for all.”

Guterres stated in his speech: “UNRWA was established to support one of the first humanitarian operations of the United Nations in nearly 75 years, and the prospect of peace remains elusive. And if anything, it is receding,” noting that the past year 2022 was the deadliest for Palestinians since the UNOCHA began systematically documenting casualty figures in 2005.

“There is no alternative to a political solution that achieves the vision of two states – Israel and Palestine – living side by side in peace and security, and Jerusalem as the capital of the two states. The broad lines of this solution are known. They are mentioned in United Nations resolutions, international law and bilateral agreements,” Guterres asserted.

He concluded: “But realities on the ground – from the continuing occupation to expanding settlement construction – are working against us. In this darkening picture, UNRWA is one of the few rays of hope. I urge you to nurture and sustain this hope. Do your part and ensure that UNRWA is fully funded. Let us help UNRWA help Palestine refugees.”

On Thursday, the US announced a donation of $153.7 million to UNRWA to support humanitarian aid, human development and protection for Palestine refugees. A figure of $13.5 million will be allocated to the emergency appeal for the occupied Palestinian territory and $17.2 million will be allocated to the emergency appeal for Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.

According to a statement by UNRWA: “This contribution raises US funding to the Agency this year to US$ 206.8 million, reaffirming the United States’ position as UNRWA’s largest donor.”

UNRWA and the US also renewed the Framework for Cooperation for 2023-2024 during a virtual signing ceremony this week.

UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini has previously said that the solution to the agency’s chronic financial problem requires political will to match the support of the various parties for UNRWA’s mission.

In a press conference in New York, Lazzarini added that the problem: “Lies in the contradiction between what UNRWA is expected to do and the resources available to it.” Lazzarini referred to: “The unique nature of UNRWA’s work, as it is the only agency tasked with providing services similar to government services. As I address you today, I do not have the funds to keep our schools, health centres and other services running as of September.”

UNRWA supports about 5.9 million Palestinian refugees in its five areas of operations: Jordan, Gaza, Lebanon, Syria and the West Bank including East Jerusalem.