The Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) will most likely be able to keep its schools open for Palestine refugee students until the end of the school year in 2019.
The agency’s 711 schools, providing free basic education for Palestinian refugee children in the West Bank - including East Jerusalem - Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, opened in September, not knowing if they would be able to keep them open until the end of November.
On Thursday, speaking to UN News in Banat Ar-Rimal school in Gaza, Matthias Schmale, the Head of UNRWA operations in Gaza said that the agency still has a deficit in its core program budget: “but we are one and a half months away from the end of the year. If we get to the end of December, we know that there are Member States who committed money for next year. So, I can say now that this school year is basically safe.”
UNRWA operations have been hit hard by the United States decision at the beginning of the year to cut back its funding of the Agency by around $300 million. It constituted the largest ever reduction in funding in UNRWA’s history, leading to a severe financial crisis which threatened the existence of many of its critical assistance programmes; forcing cutbacks to its cash-for-work activities; and limiting the provision of assistance to only the most vulnerable.
UNRWA’s Commissioner General Pierre Krähenbühl has been leading a rapid and innovative effort to overcome the financial crisis, engaging in a global mobilization of existing and new partners.
Although the gap is now reduced to $64 million, which is a strong sign of a collective mobilization, the difficulties in the region continue. According to Commissioner Pierre Krähenbühl “some donors are focused on the right to education, others concerned with regional stability, some concerned with the multilateral system and how to protect it.”
The Commissioner also spoke with UN News’s Mustafa Al Gamal on the occasion of his visit to UN Headquarters in New York, where he was reporting to the General Assembly on the situation of Palestine refugees and on the agency’s funding situation.
“We ran out of money in our emergency appeals for the West Bank and the for the Gaza strip which meant we had unfortunately to lay off a number of staff. (…) When you lose a job in the Gaza strip it is dramatic because the alternatives are not there, there are no other forms of employment right now.”, said UNRWA’s Commissioner Krähenbühl.
The Commissioner also spoke on the fuel shortage and the continuing power shut downs in hospitals which leave patients and doctors in the dark, appealing “the world to not overlook what’s happening in the region”.
“That’s just one of the other dimensions that makes life extremely difficult in Gaza. We have 280 thousand boys and girls in our schools in Gaza. Over 90% never left Gaza in their lives. We have 1 million people who depend on food assistance in the strip. You can just imagine how the cumulative effects of all the pressures and tensions that this community lives through has affected them.”, he added.
UNRWA was established by the General Assembly in 1949 to provide assistance and protection to a population of some five million registered Palestine refugees in various countries throughout the Middle East. Its services include education, relief and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, health care and emergency assistance.