Donors pledge $130 million for UN Palestinian refugee agency

JERUSALEM (AP) — International donors pledged over $130 million Tuesday to the United Nations agency helping Palestinian refugees, an amount the organization’s head says is encouraging but not enough to keep operations running through the end of the year.

The U.N. Relief and Works Agency has faced a financial crisis since the United States pulled all funding in 2018, leaving the organization with a massive budgetary shortfall.

Agency Director-General Philippe Lazzarini told reporters following a virtual fundraising conference that despite the “very strong expression of support” by international donors “we are still in the dark and we do not know if our operations will run until the end of the year.”

He said the donations covered only a fraction of the roughly $400 million budget gap the agency is facing.

UNRWA was established to aid the 700,000 Palestinians who fled or were forced from their homes in the war surrounding Israel’s establishment in 1948. The agency provides food, education, health care and other services for Palestinian refugees and their descendants — now numbering some 5 million — in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.

Lazzarini said there was no intention at this time to cut any of UNRWA’s core services, but “in reality, there is nothing left to cut without impacting the scope and the quality of the services.”

The U.S., once UNRWA’s largest donor, pulled support in 2018 triggering a financial crisis and forcing other donors to plug an approximately $211 million hole in the agency’s $1.2 billion budget.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said it was imperative that the international community “continue in the effort to make UNRWA funding sustainable, predictable and sufficient.”