The U.N. agency focused on providing assistance to Palestinian refugees has suspended its operations in the Gaza Strip following angry demonstrations in recent weeks, a scenario resulting from a funding shortfall that the agency has been suffering for years.
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East faces a budget deficit of some $100 million every year, spokesperson Christopher Gunness has previously told Devex. This puts the agency in a tight position, especially with the growing demand for services matched with dwindling donor contributions.
“We start each year not knowing if we can pay our staff in October, November and December,” he said.
Ninety-seven percent of the agency’s budget come from voluntary contributions. Last year, the lack of funds prompted UNRWA to take the painful decision of letting go 114 staff members.
At present, the agency needs $67.2 million to continue its operations. This shortall had led the administrators to terminate much-needed cash assistance to some 21,000 Gaza families.
The decision sparked anger among the refugees, a group of which protested last week at the UNRWA headquarters in Gaza, shouting verbal threats to agency employees.
“We cannot work in such conditions – who knows when these verbal threats will turn into physical attacks?” UNRWA media adviser Adnan Abu Hasna later told The Jewish Press. UNRWA Gaza operations director Robert Turner called the demonstrations “completely unacceptable.”
Until the security of all UNRWA Gaza staff is guaranteed, all of the agency’s relief and distribution centers in the Gaza Strip will remain closed, as well as “other affected installations,” Turner said. The agency is calling on Palestinian authorities to provide security and ensure “peaceful” demonstrations, and is appealing to donors to continue funding its operations.
“This is a very regrettable situation for us to be in, as food distributions right now are taking place for some 25,000 refugees every day. But we cannot tolerate these ongoing threats to our staff: their safety is of crucial concern at the moment,” Turner said in a statement.
UNRWA Commissioner-General Filippo Grandi told reporters on Friday (April 5) that half of the families affected by the aid cut will be considered as a priority in the agency’s job creation, cash for work program.
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