UN appeal may be 'lifeline' for Palestinian refugees
BEIRUT - An urgent plea for hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to Palestinian refugees from Syria could provide a "lifeline" after "catastrophic" US funding cuts, UN officials in Beirut said Wednesday.
On Tuesday, the United Nations Palestinian refugee agency, UNRWA, launched its annual funding appeal for $800 million, about half for Palestinians in the occupied territories, and the other half for those affected by Syria's war.
UNRWA is facing an additional funding challenge to its 2018 budget after its largest donor to date, the United States, announced it would contribute just $60 million, down from around $360 million last year.
Making up the difference would require a major effort from the agency, officials said.
"This is emergency funding. It is life saving," said Mohammed Adar, who heads UNRWA's Syria branch.
"Whatever we are providing to them, we are throwing to them a lifeline," Adar said.
The agency is requesting $409 million to support 438,000 Palestinian refugees in Syria, but also nearly 50,000 Palestinians who fled Syria to Jordan and Lebanon.
Those funds are primarily used by families to pay for rent, as well as food, clothes, blankets, and other everyday expenses.
"Before the war, only about seven percent (of Palestinian refugees in Syria) were dependent on UNRWA for assistance," said Adar.
"Today, it is 95 percent of that population which is entirely dependent on the support and assistance that we give."
The growing vulnerability of the Palestinian community meant US funding cuts could lead to a "humanitarian crisis," said Adar.
American government funding represented 60 percent of UNRWA's received contributions for Palestinians in Syria in 2017.
"The sudden removal of this funding from UNRWA creates huge problems for us. UNRWA is trying to do everything we can to bridge the gap," he said.
"I hope that they will be able now to revisit their decision that they have taken because simply the impact on the civilian population will be severe," he said.
UNRWA has registered 32,561 Palestinians from Syria who have fled to Lebanon, about 90% of whom live below the poverty line.
"We are talking of a population that is extremely vulnerable," said Claudio Cordone, who heads the agency in Lebanon.
"So our cash assistance and any form of assistance that we can give -- clinics, education -- is absolutely indispensable for their survival," he said.
UNRWA's Lebanon branch will run out of cash assistance by the end of February and unless funding comes through, the agency will have to let go of 18 teachers in their educational vocational centres.
"The impact of this unprecedented financial crisis on UNRWA and more importantly on the refugees that we serve is really catastrophic," said Cordone.