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UNRWA launches $800 million emergency appeal for Syria, West Bank, Gaza

Jan. 31, 2018 1:02 P.M. (Updated: Feb. 1, 2018 5:09 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- The UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the UN Agency tasked with providing assistance to Palestinian refugees, has launched an emergency appeal for Syria, the occupied West Bank, and the Gaza Strip.

UNRWA released a statement on Tuesday saying that the agency’s Commissioner General, Pierre Krahenbuhl, was launching an $800 million appeal for its emergency program -- $400 million for Syria and $400 million for the West Bank and Gaza.

The appeal, which Krahenbuhl launched during a press conference in Geneva on Tuesday, will also cover some 50,000 Palestinian refugees from Syria who have been displaced to Lebanon and Jordan as a result of the years-long armed conflict in the country.

A week ago, in response to an unprecedented financial crisis, UNRWA launched the global fundraising campaign #DignityIsPriceless.

At Tuesday’s launch event in Geneva, Krahenbuhl, explained that the majority of Palestinian refugees in the occupied Palestinian territory and Syria "rely on UNRWA to provide aid which is literally life-saving, including food, water, shelter and medical assistance.

According to Krahenbuhl, the emergency funding will enable UNRWA to continue delivering “desperately needed relief to those affected by deepening emergency situations.”

“However, the Agency's critical financial crisis following the reduction in US funds threatens our ability to deliver these vital services,” he said, referencing US President Donald Trump’s administration’s freeze earlier this month of $65 million of planned funding for the agency.

UNRWA provides cash assistance to more than 400,000 Palestinian refugees in Syria -- one of the largest such programs in an active conflict setting anywhere in the world. UNRWA also provides education to over 47,000 Palestinian refugees in the war-torn country.

In Gaza, where the unemployment is among the highest in the world due to a decade-long Israeli siege on the coastal enclave, almost one million Palestinian refugees are dependent on UNRWA for emergency food assistance -- ten times the amount of refugees that required such support in 2000.

“The situation in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, remains fragile. Palestine refugees continue to experience difficult socioeconomic conditions rooted in occupation-related policies and practices imposed by the Israeli authorities. In addition to continued movement and access restrictions and shelter demolitions, Palestine refugees in the West Bank experience high levels of food insecurity,” the statement said.

Krahenbuhl stressed that "supporting UNRWA emergency appeals is not a substitute for an urgently needed political solution to the underlying conflict. It is, however, fundamental to sustaining the dignity and strength inherent in the Palestine refugee community."

UNRWA was established by the UN General Assembly in 1949 and mandated to provide assistance and protection to some 5 million registered Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

UNRWA services encompass education, health care, relief and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, protection and microfinance. UNRWA is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions, and the agency says “financial support has been outpaced by the growth in needs.”

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