By Aidan Lewis
CAIRO (Reuters) – A U.N. agency that supports Palestinian refugees will target additional funding from Gulf states and European partners as it seeks to make up a $200 million shortfall caused by a U.S. aid cutoff, the agency’s head said on Monday.
“We face an unprecedented financial crisis,” said Pierre Krahenbuhl, Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), in Cairo to try to drum up support at an Arab League meeting on Tuesday.
“We have decided that it is essential for us to close the historic shortfall that we faced of $446 million, by reaching out to many other countries and among them member states of the League of Arab States.”
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar have already announced $50 million each for UNRWA, said Krahenbuhl, adding that Japan, India and China had also provided new or increased support.
UNRWA provides services to about 5 million Palestinian refugees across Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the West Bank and Gaza. Most are descendants of some 700,000 Palestinians who were driven out of their homes or fled fighting in the 1948 war that led to Israel’s creation.
The growing refugee count was cited by Washington, UNRWA’s biggest donor, in its decision late last month to withhold funding.
The U.S. decision threatened UNRWA’s provision of healthcare and emergency aid as well as education for 526,000 Palestinian refugee children — though schools did recently open for the new year.
“We are very determined to keep the schools open because you can’t go through an education process by opening one day and closing three weeks later,” said Krahenbuhl.
“I can’t imagine going back to our students and saying we’ve failed.”
Krahenbuhl said he was hoping that other Gulf states would offer further contributions and back efforts to find new donors in other regions. The agency will seek to mobilise European partners in the coming weeks as well as campaigning for private donations.
“We still need approximately $200 million to close this year’s shortfall … We will knock on every door to make sure we get the necessary support.”
The U.N. General Assembly had given UNRWA its mandate and approved the definition of Palestinian refugees, he noted.
“It is not for an individual member state to define a change. This is a question that rests with the General Assembly and with nobody else.”
(Editing by Toby Chopra)