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UNRWA needs $150m to keep operating until end of year

Shortfalls partially due to several key donors withholding funds until UN completes probe into misconduct accusations
Pierre Krahenbuhl, Commissioner-General of UNRWA, at a news conference in Gaza City on 27 August (AFP)

The main UN agency supporting Palestinian refugees needs $150m in donations in order to keep operating until the end of the year, the head of the agency said at a news conference in Gaza City. 

Part of the budgetary shortfalls are due to several key donors withholding funding over misconduct accusations within the agency being investigated by the UN, Pierre Krahenbuhl, Commissioner General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), said on Tuesday. 

Krahenbuhl said Switzerland, the Netherlands and Belgium had suspended their contributions to the organisation while a UN inquiry into the charges was under way, Reuters news agency reported. 

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"Our (2019) budget for all UNRWA operations in Gaza, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon is $1.2bn. At this moment we have a remaining shortfall of $150m," Krahenbuhl said, according to Reuters.

An UNRWA spokeswoman said on Tuesday that Krahenbuhl was notified in March that an investigation was underway by the UN Secretariat in New York "based on allegations received against UNRWA personnel relating to unsatisfactory conduct", Reuters reported. 

At the news conference, Krahenbuhl urged all parties to await official findings, pledging: "We will not only act on them, we will abide by them."

UNRWA was established to aid some 700,000 Palestinians who fled or were forced from their homes by Jewish paramilitaries before and during Israel's creation in 1948. 

Today, the agency serves about five million Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, as well as Lebanon, Jordan and Syria, which view it as a vital safety net, providing services that host governments do not.

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"The vast majority of countries today are very clear about their support to UNRWA's mandate and their recognition that Palestinian refugees need to continue to be assisted, respected, and see their rights defended," Krahenbuhl said on Tuesday. 

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But the funds being withheld over allegations of internal misconduct were not the first cause of the budgetary crisis. 

The agency has suffered a financial crisis since the US, historically UNRWA's largest single donor, cut its contributions from $360m to $60m in 2018, before cutting off all funding completely by 2019. 

In May, US Special Envoy to the Middle East Jason Greenblatt said UNRWA had "failed the Palestinian people" and called on the UN Security Council to "effectively dismantle" the agency. 

UNRWA's current mandate runs until 30 June 2020.