The Advisory Commission (AdCom) on the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) met virtually by videoconferencing on 23-24 November amidst immense concern over the financial shortfall that the Agency is facing.
UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini engaged AdCom members on the risks associated with the inability of UNRWA to pay salaries to over 28,000 staff if sufficient funding does not reach the Agency immediately. He urgently called on the Agency’s advisory body to help him ensure that basic services to 5.7 million Palestine refugees continue in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, Gaza, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon, particularly as a global health pandemic continues to affect the most vulnerable people globally, including Palestine refugees.
“As of today, I do not yet have sufficient funds to pay November salaries to the UNRWA staff who are at the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Lazzarini. “Our relentless health, education, social and sanitation workers, and many others have shown massive commitment and solidarity with Palestine refugees. Most of our staff come from the same community and face similar health and other challenges. For them, I urge the international community to step up its support to UNRWA immediately.”
Participants reiterated their support to UNRWA and were eager to engage with the Agency on ways to avoid the recurrent financial crises. They offered to work closely with the Commissioner-General and his team on organizing an international conference in the first half of 2021 to discuss and adopt a strategy for a sustainable UNRWA that is fully empowered to deliver on its mandate in the strictest levels of effectiveness, transparency, efficiency and accountability.
UNRWA has just secured a loan of $20 million from the Central Emergency Relief Fund (CERF), which will help with cash flow and will cover part of the November payroll but will add additional financial liabilities to the Agency in 2021. Several recent additional contributions will help reduce an immediate funding gap of $114 million, but the funds available today are nowhere near the funds needed to cover salaries in full for the November and December.
“This is the first time in memory that UNRWA has reached the cliff’s edge with no money on hand nor confirmed pledges to cover two months of salaries,” said the UNRWA Commissioner-General. UNRWA received this year the lowest level of contributions since 2012, at a time when the needs of refugees are compounded by the effects of the pandemic on their meager resources.”
The Commissioner-General, while stressing the unsettling nature of the recurring financial crises for Palestine refugees, staff, hosts and member states, reiterated his urgent call for all partners to continue their support to UNRWA and implored that members of the Advisory Commission help him attract solidarity with Palestine refugees in a way that is sustainable, predictable and long-term. With a focus on leaving no one behind and empowering youth, he called for multi-year funding rather than annual funding, to help longer-term planning, and emphasized the need for UNRWA donors to enter into a compact based on mutual predictability to avoid the financial collapse of UNRWA.
The Advisory Commission is tasked with advising and assisting the Commissioner-General of UNRWA in carrying out the Agency’s mandate and in the execution of UNRWA programs. It meets twice a year, usually in June and November, to discuss issues of importance to UNRWA, striving to reach consensus in its support of the Agency.