UNRWA emergency conference raises £72m

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) convened an emergency conference of representatives from 90 countries yesterday to find solutions to the agency’s budget shortfall.

The conference, co-chaired by Jordan, Sweden and Egypt, secured £72m in pledges including contributions from Qatar, Canada, Switzerland, Turkey, New Zealand, Norway, South Korea, Mexico, Slovakia, India and France.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the conference that “without a collective solution, UNRWA will soon run out of money”. UNRWA has an £860m annual operating budget, but currently has a £320m funding shortfall.

UNRWA Commissioner General Pierre Krähenbühl said he hoped the US would increase its contribution, in reference to the January US State Department decision to withhold £47m of funds from UNRWA. “We all agree on burden sharing, but to get there we need to make sure the transition does not victimise the Palestinian refugees more than they have already been victimised,” he said.

The US has given the agency £43m so far this year, and contributed £261m in 2017. The UK gave £48m in 2017, with the EU contributing £102m and Germany £55m. Though the EU did not pledge any additional funds at the conference, the High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini, offered to make £59m of its pledged funding available to UNRWA immediately.

Palestinian Authority (PA) Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah told the conference: “The challenges that we are facing are unprecedented and require exceptional efforts and sympathy.” UNRWA provides health care, education and social services to an estimated 5m Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.

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