On Wednesday, Bill Deere, the acting director of the UN Relief and Works Agency’s Washington office, said that all options and ideas are being considered as part of efforts to strengthen and sustain support for the nearly 6 million Palestinian refugees and their descendants who were displaced from their homes during the 1947 and 1967 wars.

On April 23, UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini urged that additional UN agencies be enlisted to help support the agency’s operations.
He recognized that “funding allocated to UNRWA have remained stagnant over time, while the demands of Palestinian refugees and the expense of operations continue to rise.” He stated that the agency’s continued reliance on “nearly entirely voluntary support from donors” would be “unreasonable.”
Despite the financial problems, Deere said on The Ray Hanania Radio Show, which is sponsored by Arab News and carried on the US Arab Radio Network, that UNRWA is dedicated to providing support until the refugees’ long-term status is decided through a just and permanent solution to the war.
He admitted that Lazzarini’s words had caused some to believe he was advocating for the UNRWA to be dismantled. However, Deere believes that utilizing existing UN support agencies to help UNRWA deliver the wide variety of services it now provides to Palestinian refugees could be a viable answer to the agency’s budget problems.

“It’s a concept from a really imaginative leader who is attempting to break us out of this apparent circle,” he explained. “There are times during the year when we live month to month, or even week to week.” That is no way to assist Palestinian refugees, and it is no way to live for our 30,000 employees.”
In 2018, President Donald Trump froze all financing to the Palestinians, including payments to the UNRWA, in the hopes of pushing the Palestinians to accept a unilaterally imposed peace agreement by Israel.

“The previous (Trump) administration cut off all humanitarian help to Palestinians; they weren’t simply targeting UNRWA,” Deere explained. “To my knowledge, this is the only group of people in the world to whom the US has refused humanitarian aid.”

They renewed support for the agency under the Biden administration. We collected roughly $339 million from the United States last year, a little less than the all-time high of $360 million (in 2017). But we have an excellent and effective collaboration with the United States.”

According to Deere, the UNRWA is mostly funded through voluntary payments from states, with the United States being the largest donor. The General Assembly renews the agency’s mandate every three years, and UN member countries evaluate its initiatives on an annual basis.

According to Deere, UNRWA has been obliged to dig into reserves and implement austerity measures due to a “continuous reduction” in funding for its programs. According to him, the agency will have a $60 million shortfall in 2021. The deficit was $72 million the prior year.

“This year, UNRWA confronts a year-end financing gap of around $100 million, though the figure is continually changing and will be debated at a donor conference in June,” Deere said.

“We are not discontinuing our usual fundraising efforts or abandoning our mission – to be clear, we are not abandoning our mission.” “UNRWA will not abandon Palestinian refugees.”

He acknowledged that there are concerns about the future, and that the agency is considering “long-term alternative alternatives” to solve the financial issues. Despite this, he added, it continues to deliver exceptional services to refugees and their descendants.

“A study by the UNHCR and the World Bank last year concluded that UNRWA is the gold standard in refugee education,” Deere stated.

“Not only are our students about a year ahead of their peers in host-country schools, but we do so at a very low cost.” As we successfully prepare pupils to be responsible global citizens, the British Council handed roughly 60 awards to our numerous schools.”

He also emphasized the agency’s successful reaction to the COVID-19 problem.

“During the COVID pandemic, the agency’s capabilities were on full show,” Deere added. “How swiftly this organization shifted within days to deal with this kind of unexpected reality, a scenario made worse by the fact that Palestine refugee camps are among the world’s most densely populated, is something we can be immensely proud of.” However, we quickly switched to telemedicine. COVID triage centers were established in our health facilities. We started delivering food and medicine to people’s homes. “In Gaza alone, we offered food assistance to over 1 million individuals.” Our teachers started creating materials for distance learning. In fact, we created resources to assist parents in dealing with distant learning. Last year, we announced a digital-learning platform, which will serve as the backbone of UNRWA education in the future, as the world, including UNRWA, evolves toward asynchronous learning. Working with this company has given me a lot to be proud of.”
UNRWA helps refugees in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, Gaza, Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon. According to Deere, over 5.7 million Palestinians are entitled for assistance, but only about 3 million actually seek it.

It is a direct-service provider, with a staff of over 30,000 employees, the majority of whom are Palestinian refugees. According to Deere, the UNRWA’s 700 schools focus on human rights, conflict resolution, tolerance, and gender equity. He noted that the agency had assisted in the creation of 700,000 employment in the region through a loan-equity program, with a focus on fostering self-sufficiency among female refugees. It also offers healthcare to over 8.5 million Gazans each year through 140 primary clinics, as well as food assistance to over 1 million Gazans.

Deere further stated that the Syrian situation has impacted over 500,000 refugees who rely on UNWRA food and money support to survive. More than 400,000 refugees in Lebanon rely on UNHCR assistance. He also believes that Arabs may contribute more to such endeavors.

“We are hoping for more Arab world support,” he stated. “It would go a long way toward alleviating our financial difficulties.”

He stated that the UNRWA can receive donations from the general public through web portals like UNRWA.org and UNRWAUSA.org.

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