UN says lacks funds to pay full Palestinian salaries, confident Biden will help

UN says lacks funds to pay full Palestinian salaries, confident Biden will help

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees, hammered by US cuts, said Monday it lacks the funds to pay full November salaries but is confident president-elect Joe Biden’s administration will restore support.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) “never recovered” from the total funding cut imposed by President Donald Trump in 2018, agency spokeswoman Tamara Alrifai told AFP.

Before Trump’s cuts, the US had been providing UNRWA $300 million a year, roughly a third of its core annual budget.

Alrifai said 2019 shortfalls were filled by additional support from several Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait.

Workers with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) wearing protective face masks stand in front of their headquarters at the Wavel Palestinian refugee camp (also known as the Jalil camp) in Lebanon's eastern Bekaa Valley, on April 24, 2020. (AFP)Workers with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) wearing protective face masks stand in front of their headquarters at the Wavel Palestinian refugee camp (also known as the Jalil camp) in Lebanon’s eastern Bekaa Valley, on April 24, 2020. (AFP)

Both the European Union and individual European states, notably Germany, also helped close the gap, she said.

This year, “financial support waned,” Alrifai added, noting that the coronavirus pandemic “didn’t help”, as key donors faced increased domestic financial pressures.

“The agency needs to raise US$70 million by the end of the month if it is to pay full salaries for the months of November and December,” an UNRWA statement said.

The funding shortfall affects 28,000 staffers, spread across Jordan, Lebanon, the occupied West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza.

Only those whose work is covered by special emergency budgets could be spared, Alrifai said.

United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) Acting Commissioner-General Christian Saunders attends a press conference at the United Nations offices in Geneva, on January 31, 2020. (AFP)United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) Acting Commissioner-General Christian Saunders attends a press conference at the United Nations offices in Geneva, on January 31, 2020. (AFP)

Israel had been critical of UNRWA before Trump’s election, arguing its presence was no longer necessary decades after the conflict following Israel’s creation in 1948 that created some 750,000 Palestinian refugees.

Israel has also criticized rules under which Palestinians can hand down refugee status to their children.

Then-US Vice President Joe Biden stands in front of a picture of late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in the West Bank city of Ramallah on March 10, 2010. (File photo: AP)Then-US Vice President Joe Biden stands in front of a picture of late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in the West Bank city of Ramallah on March 10, 2010. (File photo: AP)

On the possible impact of Biden’s election win, Alrifai said UNRWA was “very optimistic the US will resume its support”.

Asked if the agency had received specific commitments from the incoming administration, she said: “We have engaged very close with the Biden campaign team and they do understand the uniqueness of UNRWA for the stability of the region.”

Biden’s 2020 campaign website said he would restore “humanitarian aid for the Palestinian people” but did not directly mention UNRWA.

The agency’s core annual budget for 2020 stood at $806 million, with an additional $300 million for emergency programs, including the coronavirus response and Palestinians caught up in Syria’s conflict.

Founded in 1949, UNRWA runs schools and provides health services as well as other humanitarian aid to an estimated 5.7 million Palestinians with refugee status.

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