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Jordan warns of catastrophic consequences of UNRWA budget crisis

Muslim Times(Web Desk) – Jordan has warned that a severe cash crisis facing the UN agency for Palestinian refugees could have a “catastrophic” impact on the lives of millions of Palestinian refugees in the region.

Following talks with the visiting UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) Commissioner-General Pierre Krahenbuhl on Wednesday, Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said the financial shortfall facing the UN agency could deprive refugees of core education, healthcare and food security service.

Such a situation would only “deepen their humanitarian plight,” he said.

“UNRWA faces a dangerous financial deficit that threatens catastrophic consequences on refugees if it is not covered before its financial allocations run out,” Safadi was quoted as saying in a Foreign Ministry statement.

UNRWA has faced a financial shortfall since the United States, traditionally the largest donor to UNRWA, cut its annual grant from $360 million to just $60 million.

The funding crisis came in January after US President Donald Trump claimed that the Palestinian Authority was no longer willing to engage in the so-called peace talks with Israel.

The US-Palestine ties deteriorated last December, when Washington recognized Jerusalem al-Quds as the “capital” of Israel and announced plans to transfer the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem al-Quds.

The contentious move led President Mahmoud Abbas to formally declare that Palestinians would no longer accept the US as a mediator to resolve the conflict because Washington was “completely biased” towards Tel Aviv.

The US embassy relocation took place on May 14, the eve of the 70th anniversary of Nakba Day (the Day of Catastrophe), sparking deadly clashes in Gaza.

According to UNRWA, over 1.5 million Palestinians – almost a third of the registered Palestinian refugees – live in 58 recognized refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the besieged Gaza Strip and West Bank.

UNRWA is tasked with providing assistance and protection to a population of some five million registered Palestine refugees.

According to UN officials, the reduction in UNRWA’s funding could even affect the opening of schools at the start of the next academic year.

The Jordanian foreign minister further said that his country, which hosts the largest number of Palestinian refugees in the Middle East outside Palestinian territories, was engaged in intensive lobbying with donors.

“Jordan warns of the danger of touching the role of the UNRWA that should continue to provide its services under its international mandate,” the foreign ministry statement said.

Safadi called on the international community to shoulder its political and moral responsibilities towards Palestinian refugees under UN Security Council resolutions that maintain their right of return and compensation.

Meanwhile, workers at UNRWA in Gaza on Wednesday expressed outrage over a decision by the agency to lay off hundreds of its employees, seizing partial control of the headquarters of the agency.

Matthias Schmale, the head of UNRWA Operations in Gaza said the workers, who accused their union of “mutiny” over job cuts, “have taken over the compound where my office and other offices are.”

Schmale said the UNRWA does not have full control over the site in Gaza City, and that he has not been able to reach his own office for more than two weeks.

“I am the captain of the ship which has 13,000 sailors on it and they have basically thrown me off the bridge and consigned me to my captain’s quarters,” he told AFP, referring to the number of staff in Gaza.

UNRWA announced last month it had been forced to lay off more than 250 staff in the besieged Gaza Strip and the occupied West Bank after the US slashed funding to the agency. The redundancies have sparked daily protests by the agency’s labor union in the coastal enclave.

UNRWA’s labor union is expected to hold a general strike in the coming days unless a deal is reached.

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