Schools for Palestinian refugees to open despite cash crunch
OCCUPIED JERUSALEM - The United Nations said Wednesday the academic year for Palestinian refugee children will start as scheduled despite a funding crisis which had threatened the schooling programme.
"I am pleased to declare the 2015/16 UNRWA school year open. Students will return to school according to plan in Palestine on 24 August, in Jordan on 1 September, in Lebanon on 7 September and in Syria on 13 September," said Pierre Krahenbuhl, head of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees in the Middle East.
"Education is a fundamental right for children everywhere in the world, and it should never have come to the point where the UNRWA school year risked being delayed because of a funding shortfall for our core budget. But it almost did," he said in a statement.
On August 5, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warned that a $100 million shortfall in funding for the agency had placed the new school year in jeopardy.
Since then, Krahenbuhl said, donors had stepped forward to help plug the gap.
"The total amount of contributions received to date against the deficit... is $78.9 million," he said in the statement.
"While some significant work therefore remains, I consider that we have achieved our first objective and can open the schools."
Leading contributors were Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and United States, he said, while other major donations came from Switzerland, Britain, Norway, Sweden and Slovakia.
"In addition to this, we welcome the efforts by the European Union to mobilise additional means in a few weeks' time and look forward to a positive decision," he added.
The United Nations has been struggling to keep several humanitarian efforts afloat in the Middle East -- in Syria, Yemen and also Iraq -- where donors are under pressure to boost contributions.
The war in Syria, now in its fifth year, has driven more than four million people to flee to neighbouring countries, in what the UN refugee agency UNHCR has termed the single largest exodus in a generation.