Official: UNRWA suffers from $100m financial deficit

Palestinian teachers sit in front of the UNRWA headquarters in Gaza City during a general strike of employees (Mohammed Abed - AFP)

Middle East Monitor  /  August 15, 2022

Spokesman for UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), Adnan Abu-Hasna said yesterday that the UN agency’s general budget suffers from a financial deficit of $100 million.

He told reporters that this deficit has increased especially in the Gaza Strip due to the ongoing Israeli siege, the repercussions of Palestinian division, and the continuous wars, which raise unemployment rates.

Abu-Hasna stressed that UNRWA spends approximately 38 per cent of its budget in Gaza.

UNRWA was created in 1949 to provide assistance and protection for the Palestinian refugees who were forced out of their homes to make way for the creation of the state of Israel.

The organization currently offers its services to about 5.3 million Palestinian refugees in the occupied territories, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

The agency has faced severe financial difficulties since the US administration of President Donald Trump stopped donations altogether in 2018. Though some of these funds have been reinstated, they have failed to fill the funding gap.

Moreover, the United Arab Emirates sharply reduced its funding of the body in 2020, an UNRWA spokesman revealed earlier this year. Sami Mshasha said that the UAE donated $51.8 million to UNRWA in 2018 and again in 2019, but in 2020 it gave the agency just $1 million.

While the UK had more than halved its funds for UNRWA from £42.5 million ($57.2 million) in 2020 to £20.8 million ($28 million) in 2021. The UK was the third largest overall donor to UNRWA in 2020, but its latest cut puts it in the second tier of contributors.

For years, Israel has been lobbying hard to have UNRWA closed down as it is the only UN agency to have a specific mandate to look after the basic needs of Palestinian refugees. If the agency no longer exists, argues Israel, then the refugee issue must no longer exist, and the legitimate right for Palestinian refugees to return to their land will be unnecessary. Israel has denied that right of return since the late 1940s, even though its own membership of the UN was made conditional upon Palestinian refugees being allowed to return to their homes and land.

UNRWA depends almost entirely on voluntary donations from UN member states, making it extremely vulnerable to pro-Israel lobby groups which are influential in various key capitals.