Jordan and Sweden raise $130m for UN Palestinian refugee agency at donor conference

Funds needed to sustain renewed UNRWA mandate to protect 5.5 million Palestinians

A girl carries a young child near their home at al-Shati camp for Palestinian refugees in the central Gaza Strip on June 20, 2020. June 20 marks World Refugee Day, a day dedicated by the United Nations General Assembly to raising awareness of the situation of refugees throughout the world. Some five million individuals are refugees registered with the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), of whom more than 1.5 million (nearly one-third) live in 58 recognised refugee camps in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank including East Jerusalem, in addition to Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. Palestine refugees are defined by the UNRWA as "persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948, and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict." / AFP / Mohammed ABED
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Jordan and Sweden hosted an online donor conference on Tuesday that raised $130 million for the UN agency supporting Palestinian refugees to renew its mandate as it faces a financial crisis.

The conflicts in Syria and Yemen have slowed down donations over the years but the financial troubles for the UNRWA increased after 2018 when the US, its largest donor, halted its annual aid of $360 million (Dh1.32 billion).

“Seventy-five governments and non-government organisations made $130m in financial commitments to sustain the operations and services of the agency,” the conference’s closing statement said.

Saudi Arabia pledged $50m.

The agency is responsible for providing protection, health care, education, relief and social services to more than 5.6 million Palestine refugees across the Middle East.

But the UN and member states stressed that more funds were needed to protect the organisation.

“The amounts pledged today will help to ensure that UNRWA continues to deliver on its humanitarian mandate, while also meeting some of the most critical sustainable development goals to ensure that truly no one is left behind,”  UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres said.

The international community must  “come together to mobilise political and financial support” for its crucial work, Mr Guterres said.

“It is an agency that is not only a lifeline for millions of Palestinian refugees, but also critical for regional stability,” he said. “Much more is needed."

The agency said the funding crisis it faced harmed the welfare of Palestinian refugees across the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.

It was created by the UN General Assembly 70 years ago to deal with the hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees who were driven from their homes or fled the conflict during Israel’s 1948 creation.

"No one expected that 70 years later this support would still be needed," said Philippe Lazzarini, the agency's commissioner general.

"No Palestine refugees want to be a refugee for so long. No one is a refugee by choice.

“Until their plight is addressed, a predictable UNRWA is, among other support, what Palestine refugees and the region need."

Many fear the dwindling aid could fall further as the coronavirus crisis persists and donors shift priorities.

Jordan's Foreign Minister, Ayman Safadi, said time was running out and the international community must come together to ensure that operations were continued.

“Time is sensitive," Mr Safadi said. "We face the consequences of coronavirus.

"This is an important  time to send a message of hope and solidarity. Support for the UNRWA must not falter.

"It would mean abandoning and giving up on five million Palestinian refugees.

"We are talking about putting food on their table and ensuring their children go to school.

"This is a time for action. The agency has done all it could to ensure efficiency and effectiveness in its operations. We must stand by it."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said this week that he was planning to annex parts of the occupied West Bank in what would be a major and highly controversial move.

Mr Safadi gave a warning that the "window is narrowing" for countries to speak out against Israel's annexation plans.

"We meet at a time when all prospects for a just, comprehensive peace that is the right of all peoples of the region are being threatened by Israel’s decision to annex one third of the occupied West Bank, in violation of international law,” he said.

Annexation must not happen, Mr Safadi said.

He said it would "kill the two-state solution and undermine all chances for peace".

The UN Security Council is expected to discuss the matter on Wednesday.