UN predicts ‘difficult year’ for refugees in East Jerusalem after funding shortage

Saunders said the UN agency had enough funds to carry out its mission at least for the first quarter of 2020
Sunday 19/01/2020
Christian Saunders, United Nations Relief and Works Agency’s (UNRWA) interim commissioner-general, speaks during an interview in Gaza City, January 16. (Reuters)
Tough times. Christian Saunders, United Nations Relief and Works Agency’s (UNRWA) interim commissioner-general, speaks during an interview in Gaza City, January 16. (Reuters)

LONDON - The UN agency that aids Palestinian refugees is anticipating a “difficult year” as it struggles to shore up funding to carry out its mandate.

The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), tasked to provide critical aid to Palestinian refugees, has been struggling since the United States withdrew its annual aid of $360 million last year.

Organisation officials said they worry funds could further dwindle as pro-Israel groups lobby foreign governments to hold back funding, Interim UNRWA Commissioner-General Christian Saunders, told Reuters.

Both the United States and Israel have accused UNRWA of mismanagement and anti-Israeli incitement.

Saunders said the UN agency had enough funds to carry out its mission at least for the first quarter of 2020 and was negotiating with the United States about its return as a partner.

“We are engaged with the US. We will continue to engage with them in the hopes that they will see UNRWA as a reliable partner and worth supporting,” Saunders said.

Saunders initially said Israel and the United States were “advocating against funding UNRWA in the European parliaments and elsewhere” but clarified in a statement that he was referring to pro-Israel groups. He said UNRWA “had no reason to believe that the US was engaged in lobbying to stop funding the agency.”

Israel considers all of Jerusalem, including the eastern part captured along the West Bank in the 1967 Middle East war, as its “indivisible capital.” Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of a state they seek to establish in the West Bank and Gaza.

In December, the UN General Assembly renewed UNRWA’s mandate for three years. The agency aids more than 5 million registered refugees in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, as well as in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

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