UNRWA’s endemic financial crisis and the disregard of Palestinians’ national rights

Tue, 02/23/2016

UNRWA continues to steadily shrink its educational, health and in-kind services, in parallel with the international drive to write off the Palestinian cause which was already given up by most Arab and Palestinian political forces. In justifying the recent cuts in services, UNRWA once more invokes financial difficulties, resulting from the drop in international funding, while reflecting clear insensitiveness towards the social and humanitarian hardships of refugees caused by these cuts.

UNRWA was created in November 1948 with the purpose of providing aid to the Palestinian refugees as well as coordinating the relief efforts undertaken by various UN, other international and foreign organizations. This UN organisation began its operations in May 1950 as a specialised and temporary agency, with a mandate that was extended every three years (with the expected final life date on June 30th 2017) and until the resolution of the Palestinian problem. It is to be noted that this “temporary” lifespan has now extended over 65 years!

UNRWA is funded by a number of major donors namely the USA, the EU, the UK, Nordic countries, GCC countries, Japan and Canada, and has a geographical remit that covers five areas namely the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria. When it was first set up, the total number of UNRWA beneficiaries was 75,000 refugees. This figure has now risen to 5 million in 2015 according to the organization. UNRWA’s budget is allocated as follows: 54% for educational services, 18% for health services, 18% for works and operations, and 10% for relief and social services.

UNRWA began shrinking its services as early as the eighties especially given the sharp drop in its income that could no longer keep up with exploding demographics, new emerging social needs and the sharp rise in the cost of services. The financial crisis that followed reflected the reluctance of the international community to increase its commitments because of what is known as “donor fatigue”. This situation was concomitant with attempts to throw off the responsibility for the Palestinian refugees on their respective host countries, knowing very well that these countries lack the necessary financial resources.
Palestinian refugees in UNRWA area of operation have different living and legal conditions, according to the host country. In Jordan, the overwhelming majority of Palestinian refugees has acquired Jordanian citizenship and became an integral component of the Jordanian society. In Syria, Palestinian refugees, and until recently (i.e. the outbreak of war in 2011) enjoyed rights and entitlements believed to be among the best than in any of the other host countries. In Lebanon, Palestinian refugees live in abysmal social and economic conditions especially since the successive Lebanese governments persist in blocking any initiative that may lead to the improvement of their social and economic situation. In justifying their positions, most of Lebanese governments have exploited the widespread fears of permanent resettlement of Palestinians refugees in Lebanon, as well as invoked their right to return to their homeland. Within parts of Palestine, their home country, the responsibility for the welfare of Palestinians refugees lies with the Palestinian authority.

Strict policies and measures adopted by Lebanese governments since the early eighties have resulted in more social and economic hardship to Palestinians in Lebanon thus prompting many to leave the country. The recent new measures that have cut further on UNRWA services, have spurred only limited protests that seem incapable of addressing the real problem.

Within this context, most international parties as well as Arab and Palestinian officials, continue to procrastinate throwing the blame on each others, while indirectly furthering pressures on Palestinians refugees to abandon their inalienable national rights.