Statement by UNRWA Spokesperson, Chris Gunness

The complex and harsh challenges the Palestine refugee community has endured over the past decades are monumental. This year the challenges have grown, following the largest ever reduction in funding UNRWA has faced.  The ability of Palestine refugees to persevere is hugely admired by many around the world who continue earnestly to express solidarity and support for them.  As we continue to pursue every avenue of support to overcome a severe financial crisis, UNRWA, its dedicated staff, and the refugees have only one option - to face up to this situation together and preserve the most important work we do.

The decision of the US to cut $300 million in funding to UNRWA this year has been described by our Commissioner-General as an existential threat to UNRWA. Determined not to forsake Palestine refugees, UNRWA and its partners have mobilized political and financial support around the globe, to maintain its operations and render essential services to its beneficiaries with dignity and hope.

Our global fundraising efforts and Dignity Is Priceless campaign have led to significant additional support for UNRWA, from historical donors to new partners, including institutions for the mobilization of Zakat. Throughout this period, the hosts provided important backing. From March to June alone UNRWA raised $238 million in new funding for Palestine refugees, and with the conclusion of the New York pledging conference on June 25, the $446 deficit was reduced to $217 million -- a monumental achievement.

The response, so far, reaffirms that UNRWA enjoys clear support from key donors, hosts, and the Secretary-General of the United Nations.  Continuing and expanding this support is crucial for our efforts over the coming months to bridge the financial gap and ensure needed funding for our 2019 operations.

We are still in crisis. Let no one claim otherwise. But we are also determined to maintain core services to the millions of Palestine refugees who rely on us in Jordan, Lebanon, the occupied Palestinian territory, and Syria and preserve what we can of our emergency assistance.

Our emergency assistance is critically under-funded in the occupied Palestinian territory, where the US contribution for emergency programming  -- almost $100 million per year -- is no longer available and has forced us to take mitigating measures.

In implementing these changes to its emergency interventions in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip, UNRWA’s humanitarian responsibility dictates that we give priority to refugees with the most critical needs. It dictates that we protect core services, including education, health, and relief, via our staff members to the millions of Palestine refugees in need of such services. With the rolling out of these measures, a limited number of personnel (both area and international) will be affected.

In the West Bank, owing to the absence of emergency funding, UNRWA will discontinue its Cash for Work activities effective July 31, 2018.  However, households assessed in the last two years as abject poor will be transitioned to the Social Safety Net Programme (SSNP) –- a core programme of the Agency, which we are determined to continue. This will ensure that the most impoverished refugees inside camps continue to receive assistance and become eligible for other forms of support which are not available under Cash for Work. Food voucher activities will continue until the end of 2018 at which time households who have been assessed in the last two years as abject poor will also be transitioned to SSNP.

The Bedouin community's food assistance programme will continue operating until the end of 2018, with UNRWA and its partner the World Food Programme actively working to secure funds for its continuation in 2019. The Community Mental Health Programme (CMHP)  will be discontinued effective August 31, 2018. UNRWA is currently coordinating options to continue working with select communities alongside UN agencies. Finally, mobile health clinics will be discontinued effective October 31, 2018. UNRWA is identifying possible partners for continued service to select communities.

As a result of all these measures, 154 staff members hired against now depleted emergency funds will not have their contracts renewed upon reaching their expiry date. UNRWA recognizes the implications of such measures on affected staff.  In recognition to the important service of these colleagues and their dedication, if they chose to apply in the future to vacant posts, they will be treated as ‘internal candidates’ allowing an exceptional greater opportunity for re-employment with the Agency.

In doing all it can to minimize the impact on refugees in Gaza, UNRWA is prioritizing food security support to the most vulnerable refugees by continuing its emergency food programme to nearly I1 million refugees and retaining certain interventions such as Cash for Work. In order to do so,  the Community Mental Health Programme (CMHP), job creation programme and protection functions will have to be altered. CMHP will continue, albeit at reduced capacity and cost. As of September 2018, mental health activities will be largely embedded within our health and education departments instead of a standalone programme.

In order to protect as many jobs as possible and retain components of certain emergency-based interventions by integrating them into core programmes, around 280 staff will be redeployed on a full-time basis in existing or revised functions and approximately 584 staff will be offered part-time posts in existing or revised functions. The Emergency Assistance funding challenge in the Gaza Strip would result in having 113 posts on emergency funding not renewed upon expiry of contract in August this year. As is the case with the West Bank field, if they choose to apply in the future to vacant posts, they will be treated as ‘internal candidates’ allowing an exceptional greater opportunity for re-deployment with the Agency.

It is important to emphasize that relentless efforts are underway to ensure that the new school year would start on time, catering to half a million students and that our other essential services -- such as healthcare for example -- continue uninterrupted. It is equally important to be clear that UNRWA remains committed to provide assistance and protection to Palestine refugees, in accordance with its mandate. The General Assembly has consistently extended the Agency’s mandate, most recently until June 30, 2020.

In his recent letter to UNRWA staff, the Commissioner-General said that despite all the challenges it faces, the Agency "will prevail" and it will not weaken its “defense of the rights and dignity of Palestine refugees."

for more information, please contact:

Christopher Gunness
Spokesperson, Director of Advocacy & Strategic Communications
Mobile: +972 (0)54 240 2659
Office: +972 (0)2 589 0267