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Cash-strapped UN agency for Palestinian refugees faces $100m funding gap

The financial crisis has made it 'extremely challenging' to provide relief to millions of Palestinian refugees, Unrwa commissioner-general says
Palestinians walk past the UNRWA's shuttered headquarters in Gaza City during a general strike of employees in UNRWA institutions on 29 November 2021.
Palestinians walk past Unrwa's shuttered headquarters in Gaza City during a general strike of employees in Unrwa institutions on 29 November 2021 (AFP)

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees (Unrwa), which provides healthcare and education to millions of Palestinians, is facing a funding gap of $100m, a top official has said.

Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner-general of Unrwa, told reporters in Beirut on Wednesday that the agency was "facing a major financial crisis which reduced our ability to deal with the Palestinian refugees' crisis".

Unrwa was founded in December 1948 to provide relief programmes for around 750,000 Palestinian refugees expelled by Zionist militias from their villages and towns during the establishment of the state of Israel - an event known to Palestinians as the Nakba, or "catastrophe".

There are now 5.7 million refugees registered as eligible to receive aid from Unrwa.

The US had been Unrwa's largest single donor, followed by the European Union, until 2018, when the administration of then-US President Donald Trump cut its yearly contribution from $360m to $60m, before cutting all funding in 2019 - leaving the organisation cash-strapped.

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In April, the administration of US President Joe Biden announced that it was planning to provide $235m of aid in a bid to engage with the Palestinian Authority (PA) and move forward with a two-state solution.

Unrwa confirmed at the time that it would receive $150m of this aid from the US, barely enough to support its 700 schools and 150 health clinics that help Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, Gaza Strip, JordanSyria and Lebanon.

"This is an extremely challenging period for Unrwa," Lazzarini said on Wednesday. "It is an extremely distressing period for Palestine refugees, one of the most vulnerable communities in this region."

On Wednesday, the charity Save the Children reported that more than half of all Palestinian children in the besieged Gaza Strip have had suicidal thoughts in the past year.

According to Save the Children, around 55 percent of children had contemplated suicide, while three out of five children had self-harmed.

More than two million Palestinians have been surviving under a brutal Israeli economic and military blockade on Gaza since 2006, with the Strip described as "the world's largest open-air prison".

Israel withdrew its troops from Gaza in 2005 but - citing security concerns - maintains tight control of Gaza's airspace, and land and sea borders, which has reduced the economy of the Palestinian coastal enclave to a state of total collapse.

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