UN Relief Works Agency will prevail despite US funding cut

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 itself 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 many years.
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 the 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 refugees. 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 public good”.
The Commissioner-General said that the need for humanitarian action arises from the extreme violence, pain, suffering and injustice caused by war.
In the case of Palestine refugees, this was caused by forced displacement, dispossession, loss of homes and livelihoods, as well as by statelessness and occupation.
“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 prolong 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 UNRWA.
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. – Third World Network
(Published in SUNS #8746 dated 4 September 2018)