Donors Pledge Contributions to Relief Agency for Palestine Refugees, as Agency Struggles with Maintaining Critical Services
A total of 25 donors today announced contributions to the 2023 budget of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) after two young Palestinian student parliamentarians told the General Assembly Ad Hoc Committee of how urgently funding is needed to maintain access to all services including education — a rare beacon of hope amidst the ongoing crisis.
The voluntary contributions were made during a meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee, established by the General Assembly as the primary forum for announcing financial support. UNRWA has been providing health, education, relief and social services, as well as emergency humanitarian assistance, across its five fields of operation — Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank and Gaza Strip — since 1950 and currently serves some 5.9 million Palestine refugees.
Ahmad Abu Daqqa, UNRWA Student Parliamentarian, said he is a Palestine refugee from Gaza and a student at Khuza Preparatory Boys School in Khan Younis, one of the 700 schools run by UNRWA. He said UNRWA schools provide the only refuge in times of crisis as well as hope. “We are the ones who have dreams that reach the stars, despite the painful reality of our lives,” he said, asking delegates to continue their Governments’ support for UNRWA as their funding keeps the schools, education and students’ hope alive.
Leen Sharqawi, a student at the UNRWA Nuzha School for Girls in Amman, Jordan, elected student representative and currently the deputy head of the Jordan-wide UNRWA school parliament, emphasized that she represented the voices of more than half a million boys and girls studying in UNRWA schools in the five fields of operation: Jordan, Syria, Gaza, the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Lebanon. Citing leadership and public speaking as two skills that she has polished in UNRWA schools, she stressed: “We are not just Palestine refugees — we are children who dream of becoming global citizens and who want to help the world become a better place”.
Csaba Kőrösi (Hungary), President of the General Assembly, noted that in May he had visited Jordan and the Jabal el-Hussein camp in Amman, witnessing the exceptional work of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). Welcoming the student parliamentarians, he stated he had spoken with their peers about their hopes and dreams, rekindling his own optimism. UNRWA represents some of the world’s most essential workers — their tireless efforts, from Gaza to the West Bank, Jordan to Lebanon and Syria, striving to ensure social justice, educate future generations and protect women and girls.
While UNRWA was initially established as a temporary apparatus, with no solution to the conflict in sight, the agency is still pleading for adequate funding. Starting 2023 with a $75 million debt, UNRWA will run out of money by September unless immediate funds are disbursed — with real-life consequences for nearly 6 million refugees “who depend on commitments shown in this room”, he stressed. He called on donors to show real political and financial will to secure the future of UNRWA’s critical operations.
Earle Courtenay Rattray, Chef de Cabinet, speaking on behalf of United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, underlined that, while the international community recognizes the essential role of UNRWA, it has allowed the agency to remain trapped in financial limbo, with soaring needs met by stagnating funds. “Let’s be clear: UNRWA is on the verge of financial collapse — the consequences of further budget cuts would be catastrophic,” he warned. Stressing the countless stories of opportunities created and lives forever changed, he further noted that the prospect of peace is remote and violence is raging on halfway into 2023 — pleading for Member States to “nurture and sustain” the hope represented by UNRWA.
Philippe Lazzarini, UNRWA Commissioner-General, noted that the agency has continued to provide essential services despite new escalations in the Gaza Strip, an earthquake in Syria, unprecedented violence across the West Bank, and financial meltdown in Lebanon. However, he stressed, Palestine refugees’ resilience should not blind the international community from the underlying human tragedy. “ We are asked to provide Government-like services but are not receiving the means to do it,” he affirmed. Calling for $75 million to maintain the food pipeline for over 1 million people in the Gaza Strip and $30 million for cash and food assistance to 600,000 refugees, he warned that otherwise, UNRWA might implode in the coming months.
The following delegations confirmed 2023 pledges in the following amounts: Estonia (€80,000); Malaysia ($200,000); Canada (CAD$3 million for Emergency Appeal and CAD$100 million for 2023 to 2026); Switzerland (3 million Swiss francs); Norway (an additional 25 million Norwegian kroner, totalling 300 million Norwegian kroner for 2023); Republic of Korea ($1.7 million); United Kingdom (£10 million); Slovenia (an additional €100,000 on top of the €50,000 already allocated for 2023); Qatar ($8 million for 2023 and $8 million for 2024); Luxembourg (an additional €400,000, making the total €4.5 million while also noting that the total could reach €5.5 million for 2023); Cyprus (€100,000); Ireland (€2 million); Germany (€117 million); Malta (€75,000); Montenegro ($10,000); Kuwait ($2 million); Poland ($230,000); Iceland (50 million Icelandic krónur); New Zealand ($609,000); Philippines ($50,000); Belgium ($11.5 million); Russian Federation ($10 million by 2026); United Arab Emirates ($4 million over 2023 and 2024); Lithuania ($30,000); and Brazil ($75,000).
The following delegations also drew attention to the contributions and commitments they had already made in multi-year pledges and arrangements with UNRWA: European Union (€400 million annually, with support between 2022 and 2024 amounting to minimum €261 million); Malaysia (pledged in 2021 to commit to a long-term contribution of $1 million over the span of 5 years, has disbursed $200,000 for 2023); Sweden ($40 million already disbursed for 2023); Estonia (€80,000 for 2023); Japan ($40.1 million so far for 2023); United States ($889 million since 2021); Greece (€40,000); Türkiye ($10 million for 2023); India ($25 million over the past five years); Switzerland (20 million Swiss francs for 2023-24); Austria (€400,000 earlier for 2023, €5.4 million); Denmark ($75 million for 2023-2027); Romania (€50,000 earlier for 2023, will reach €250,000); Australia (its annual support since 1951 and its announcement of AUS$20 million for 2022-2023, which it will maintain in the coming financial year); Monaco (€400,000); Liechtenstein (100,000 Swiss francs); China ($1 million); Thailand ($200,000 for 2022 to 2026); Qatar ($50 million in 2018 on education, $20 million to support Palestinians in Syria, $12 million through the committee on rebuilding the Gaza Strip, $2.5 million to the 2022 UNRWA appeal); Luxembourg (€12.3 million for 2022-2024); Saudi Arabia ($27 million at the end of 2022); Ireland (€6 million already in 2023); France (€33 million for 2023); Indonesia ($2 million over the past 5 years, pledged a further 2023 disbursement in June); Spain (€6.25 million so far); Netherlands (€19 million for three years); and Latvia (considering increasing its annual contribution).
Further support for UNRWA was expressed by representatives of Egypt; Bangladesh; Syria; Jordan; Tunisia; Maldives; Lebanon; Cuba; Finland; Pakistan; Bahrain; and the Holy See.
After those interventions, Riyad Mansour, Permanent Observer for the State of Palestine, noted this year marks 75 years since the Nakba’s onset in 1948 and the exile of millions of Palestine refugees — the longest-standing refugee crisis in the world. UNRWA still exists because of this ongoing injustice, one of the international community’s most significant humanitarian, development and human security undertakings. Thanking all countries and organizations for their generous contributions, additional support and/or commitments to multi-year funding, he stressed that sole reliance on voluntary contributions for core services is unsustainable — reiterating his call for a larger assessed contribution from the United Nations budget. “We must act quickly to reverse the funding decline that threatens to undermine or halt UNRWA assistance,” he stressed.