The Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) looks set to keep its classrooms open for the rest of the school year, despite earlier fears that they would have to close within the next few weeks, due to steep funding cuts, the agency told UN News in the Gaza Strip on Thursday.
The agency’s 711 schools, provide free basic education for Palestinian refugee children in the West Bank - including East Jerusalem - Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. They opened in September for the start of the year, not knowing if they would be able to keep them open until even the end of this month.
On Thursday, speaking to UN News in Banat Ar-Rimal school in Gaza, Matthias Schmale, the Head of UNRWA operations in Gaza, said that the agency still has a deficit in its core program budget, “but we are one and a half months away from the end of the year. If we get to the end of December, we know that there are Member States who committed money for next year. So, I can say now that this school year is basically safe.”
We have 280 thousand boys and girls in our schools in Gaza. Over 90 per cent never left Gaza in their lives - UNRWA’s Commissioner General Pierre Krähenbühl
UNRWA operations have been hit hard by the United States decision at the beginning of the year to cut back its funding of the Agency by around $300 million. That constituted the largest ever reduction in funding in UNRWA’s history, leading to a severe financial crisis which threatened the existence of many of its critical assistance programmes; forcing cutbacks to its cash-for-work activities; and limiting the provision of assistance to only the most
Although the gap is now reduced to $64 million, a strong sign of a collective effort to safeguard its programmes, the difficulties in the region continue. According to Commissioner Pierre Krähenbühl “some donors are focused on the right to education, others concerned with regional stability, some concerned with the multilateral system and how to protect it.”
The Commissioner spoke with UN News’s Mustafa Al Gamal during a visit to UN Headquarters in New York, where he was reporting to the General Assembly on the situation of Palestine refugees and on the agency’s funding situation.
“We ran out of money in our emergency appeals for the West Bank and the for the Gaza strip which meant we had unfortunately to lay off a number of staff,” he said.
When you lose a job in the Gaza strip it is dramatic because the alternatives are not there, there are no other forms of employment right now.” added Mr. Krähenbühl .
The Commissioner also provided updates on the chronic fuel shortages and the continuing power shut downs in hospitals which have left many patients and doctors in the dark in recent months, appealing for “the world to not overlook what’s happening in the region”.
“That’s just one of the other dimensions that makes life extremely difficult in Gaza. We have 280,000 boys and girls in Gaza. Over 90% have never left Gaza in their lives. We have 1 million people who depend on food assistance in the strip. You can just imagine how the cumulative effects of all the pressures and tensions that this community lives through, has affected them.”, he told UN News in New York.
UNRWA was established by the General Assembly in 1949 to provide assistance and protection to a population of some five million registered Palestine refugees in various countries throughout the Middle East. Its services include education, relief and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, health care and emergency assistance.