Two Palestinian children in Rafah, Gaza Strip | Credit: Said Khatib, AFP
Two Palestinian children in Rafah, Gaza Strip | Credit: Said Khatib, AFP

The UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, has urgently called for extra funding after the United States cut its financial support for its organization. What is the function of the UNRWA?

At a conference in Rome, UNWRA called for 100 million dollars (around 82 million euros) to fund the organization, a small portion of its financial gap of 450 million dollars. This financial crisis was largely due to a decision by the U.S. government under Donald Trump in January to reduce its funding in 2018. In effect, the US will pay only 60 million dollars this year, compared to 360 million dollars in previous years.

"We are here to help UNRWA overcome the worst financial crisis in its history," UN General Secretary Antonio Guterres said as reported by German agency dpa. President Trump justified his decision to cut funding to the organization after saying that President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas was not ready for peace talks with Israel.

Founding and function

The UNRWA was founded in December 1949 and is separate from the other UN Refugee Agency, the UNHCR. It operates in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. It's two main offices are in Amman, Jordan and Gaza City.  Its main function is to provide aid and support to Palestinian refugees in the region. It is important to note that Palestinian refugees include the descendants of those who fled the wars of 1948 and 1967. The head of the UNWRA is called the Commissioner-General, who is now the Swiss national Pierre Krähenbühl.

The UNRWA has many functions in its support for Palestinian refugees. It divides its services into seven areas: education, health, protection, relief and social services, microfinance, infrastructure and camp improvement and emergency response. The organization builds schools for Palestinian children and also provides food to families in poverty. It provides healthcare for Palestinian refugees: through clinics, improving environmental health in refugee camps, and food aid to vulnerable groups, such as Palestinian families without a source of income. The organization helps build refugee camps.  

The UNRWA's Microfinance Department provides financial services and loans to the refugees and helps them start businesses. It also responds to emergencies, such as providing to food and cash and other supplies to Palestinians affected by the Syrian civil war.

Read more about the function of the UNRWA here:

Demonstrations in the Gaza Strip

On Thursday, around a hundred Palestinians demonstrated in front of the UNWRA bureau in Gaza to call on the international community to provide donations. Almost half of the two million people living in the Gaza Strip are dependent on aid from the UNWRA. When the Islamist group Hamas took over the strip in 2007, Israel then imposed a military blockade over supplies entering the strip, monitoring food and supplies that enter there.


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