Info Service on UN Sustainable Development (Sept18/02)
5 September 2018
Third World Network
Mideast: UNRWA will prevail despite US funding cut, says its chief
Published in SUNS #8746 dated 4 September 2018
Geneva, 3 Sep (Kanaga Raja) - Expressing deep regret and disappointment
at the decision by the United States on 31 August to provide no additional
funding to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in
the Near East (UNRWA), its Commissioner-General made clear that UNRWA's
operations will continue and that the agency will prevail.
In an open letter to Palestine refugees and UNRWA staff on Monday,
Mr Pierre Krahenbuhl, the UNRWA chief, said that the US decision affects
one of the most robust and rewarding partnerships in the humanitarian
and development fields.
He however unreservedly rejected its accompanying narrative.
A press statement issued by the US State Department on 31 August said
that the US administration had carefully reviewed the issue and determined
that the United States will not make additional contributions to UNRWA.
Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert said that when the US made
a contribution of $60 million in January, it had made it clear that
it was no longer willing to shoulder the very disproportionate share
of the burden of UNRWA's costs that it had assumed for many years.
According to the State Department press statement, beyond the budget
gap it self and failure to mobilize adequate and appropriate burden
sharing, the fundamental business model and fiscal practices that
have marked UNRWA for years - tied to UNRWA's endlessly and exponentially
expanding community of entitled beneficiaries - is simply unsustainable
and has been in crisis mode for
According to the US State Department Spokesperson, the US will no
longer commit further funding "to this irredeemably flawed operation".
In his open letter on Monday, the UNRWA Commissioner-General said
that at t he outset, he wished to convey, with confidence and steadfast
determination, to Palestine refugees in the West Bank, including East
Jerusalem, in Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, that "our operations
will continue and our Agency prevail."
At the heart of our mission lie the dignity and rights of a very anguished
and profoundly unsettled community.
"The funding decision of an individual member state - albeit
our historically most generous and consistent donor - will not modify
or impact the energy and passion with which we approach our role and
responsibility towards Palestine refuge es. It will only strengthen
our resolve," he said.
To his colleagues - both Palestinian and international - the Commissioner-General
confirmed that "we will apply ourselves with every shred of energy
and creativity to continue meeting the needs of the community and
preserve our vital services."
All staff will be at their duty stations, and will keep our installations
open and safe. It is crucial to project the strongest sense of unity
and purpose, the UNRWA chief added.
Mr Krahenbuhl noted that UNRWA's remarkable history is made up of
millions of acts of selflessness and courage in one of the world's
most polarized an d emotionally charged regions of the planet.
UNRWA was created in 1949 to provide assistance and protection of
rights of Palestine refugees, pending a just and lasting solution
to their plight.
This was - and firmly remains - the expression of the collective will
of the international community and the General Assembly of the United
Nations has consistently praised the human development results achieved
by the Agency and extended its mandate.
The World Bank has called UNRWA's education system a "global
The Commissioner-General said that the need for humanitarian action
arises from the extreme violence, pain, suffering and injustice caused
In the case of Palestine refugees, this was caused by forced displacement,
dispossession, loss of homes and livelihoods, as well as by statelessness
"No matter how often attempts are made to minimize or de-legitimize
the individual and collective experiences of Palestine refugees, the
undeniable fact remains that they have rights under international
law and represent a community of 5.4 million men, women and children
who cannot simply be wished away."
The UNRWA chief underlined that the responsibility for the protracted
nature of the Palestine refugee-hood, the growing number of refugees
and the growth in needs, lies squarely with the parties and in the
international community's lack of will or utter inability to bring
about a negotiated and peaceful resolution of the conflict between
Israel and Palestine.
"The attempt to make UNRWA somehow responsible for perpetuating
the crisis is disingenuous at best," he said.
There is sadly nothing unique in the protracted nature of the Palestine
refugee crisis. Refugees in places like Afghanistan, Sudan, Somalia,
Congo and beyond have also experienced decades of displacement and
lack of resolution.
Their children and grand-children are similarly recognized as refugees
and assisted by UNHCR (the UN Refugee Agency).
Enshrined in the principle of humanity and the international law norm
of family unity is the commitment to continue serving communities
affected by war until a political solution has been found.
It is the failure to end conflicts that prolongs refugee situations
and denies refugees the choice to define a dignified future of their
own, said the UNRWA chief.
He noted that in January 2018, the US announced that its annual contribution
to UNRWA would be $60 million.
"We acknowledged this important funding at the time but also
highlighted the fact that it represented a $300 million reduction
in income, which confronted our organization with an existential crisis.
At no time over the past eight months were we notified of the specific
reasons for the dramatic cut," he said.
It appeared clearly related however to the tensions between the United
States and the Palestinian leadership following the US announcement
on Jerusalem and not to UNRWA's performance.
It therefore represented an evident politicization of humanitarian
aid. The announcement made yesterday further challenges the notion
that humanitarian funding should be de-politicized.
It risks undermining the foundations of the international, multilateral
and humanitarian systems.
The UNRWA Commissioner-General also said it is a radical departure
from almost seven decades of genuine - if at times critical - US support
to the Agency and is inconsistent with the cooperation agreement signed
in early December 2017 between the United States and UNRWA, in which
the US recognized the robustness and integrity of our management of
the organization and its resources and how we address our multiple
operational, security and financial challenges.
"Our commitment to accountability, strict and sound financial
discipline, to setting priorities and acting decisively when the Agency's
neutrality is challenged, are matters of public record."
In 2018, UNRWA introduced stringent management measures as its own
necessary contribution to overcoming the financial crisis.
"We have also achieved remarkable results in terms of diversification
and expanding partnerships."
The UNRWA chief acknowledged with deep appreciation the over 25 countries
that advanced their expected annual contributions to earlier in the
year to help UNRWA sustain operations.
He also expressed immense gratitude to the 30 donors who have provided
additional contributions to UNRWA's core and emergency activities
this year and those who have signed new multi-year agreements with
He highlighted with particular emphasis the generous donations made
by Gulf countries, specifically the State of Qatar, the Kingdom of
Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates, as well as the historic support
from the State of Kuwait.
"We are still in critical need of over $200 million to survive
this year's crisis and call on donors to sustain the collective mobilization
to succeed in this crucial endeavour."
When UNRWA opened the school year on time this week - with the admirable
support of its partners - and 526,000 girls and boys returned to classrooms
in its 711 schools in the region, it was a moment of celebration,
pride and hope.
UNRWA does not pay lip service when it comes to the right to education,
to empowering young girls, to developing critical thinking and teaching
tolerance and human rights, the UNRWA chief underlined.
"There is nothing artificial in our commitment to the preservation
of opportunities and rights. We act concretely on these difficult
front-lines, committed to upholding the integrity of our mandate and
striving for high standards in our education, health, relief and social
services and emergency response."
"I say again to all Palestine refugees: we will not fail you.
Our partnership with you is stronger than ever. Your Dignity is Priceless,"
said Mr Krahenbuhl.