Reports & Researches

What are the implications of UNRWA’s decision to partially postpone the salaries of its employees on the Palestinian refugees?

What are the implications of UNRWA’s decision to partially postpone the salaries of its employees on the Palestinian refugees?


(Human rights report)


UNRWA Commissioner-General Mr. Philip Lazrini announced on 9/11/2020 that UNRWA was facing a financial deficit estimated at $ 130 million, and that "the agency was forced to partially postpone the salaries of 28,000 employees, including health care workers and teachers, due to the lack of sufficient funds from the donor countries.


What is the truth and what are the implications of these decisions and statements, and what are the options available to Palestinian refugees?


First: Introduction:

The United Nations General Assembly established UNRWA on 12/8/1949 under Resolution 302, and it is the UN agency and humanitarian organization that operates within the legal framework applicable to the UN bodies, including the UN Charter.


UNRWA is mandated by the United Nations General Assembly to provide assistance and protection to Palestine refugees until a just and durable solution to their plight is found. UNRWA services include education, health care, relief and social services, camp infrastructure, microfinance and emergency assistance for Palestine refugees.


Despite the long period of asylum, which exceeded seventy years, and the lack of serious efforts by the international community to find a just and lasting solution to their plight, the Palestinian refugees are surprised at the beginning of each year with decisions and statements that constitute psychological, economic and social pressures for them.


Second: annual statements of UNRWA commissioners:

In 2015, former UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl announced that there was a deficit in the UNRWA budget for the year 2015/2016 estimated at 101 million Dollar, and that UNRWA was forced to impose severe cuts to the basic services of Palestinian refugees in health, education, employment, relief and environmental health. Mr. Krähenbühl justified these austerity measures by failing to fulfill many of the international donors' to their commitments to UNRWA. As a result, it will face a deficit in paying the salaries of its employees during May, June and July of that year. The United States responded to the distress call at the time and provided the agency with $ 25 million.


Third: The United States of America, the largest supporter, stops its support for the Agency:

The American decision to stop support is probably linked to the impact of the so-called Deal of the Century, and the consequences of the economic conference in Bahrain, and the American measures.


UNRWA faces challenges related to the increase in the number of Palestinian refugees and major financial problems, which led to a deficit in its budget, which endangers its basic services in the five countries. The situation seriously worsened in 2018 when the United States stopped funding to UNRWA, and it is the largest international donor. The US decision put the agency in an unprecedented financial crisis. Then due to the remarkable additional support from many traditional and new donors, and due to the launch of the global donation campaign "Dignity is Priceless", UNRWA was able to mobilize additional donations and were able to reduce the deficit from $ 446 million at the beginning of the year to $ 64 million in late September 2018.


Fourth: Risks of not paying salaries to 28,000 employees:

Perhaps the most dangerous stage UNRWA has reached is the threat that nearly 28,000 employees will not be fully paid. UNRWA Commissioner-General Mr. Philip Lazrini announced on 9/11/2020, that UNRWA was facing a financial deficit of 130 million dollar, and that "the agency was forced to partially postpone the salaries of 28,000 employees, including health care workers and teachers, due to the lack of sufficient funds from the donor countries”.

Mr. Philip Lazrini added in his statement that the agency "needs  70 million dollar in order to be able to pay full salaries for the current months of November and December. He added that the employees have been informed that the agency does not have sufficient financial resources until this moment. To pay the salaries in full for this month.


Fifth: Israel and UNRWA:

An Israeli media campaign was launched to demand the liquidation of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). This was reflected in statements, articles and appeals to close the refugee file and the right of return, in conjunction with the United States procedures to reduce the financial aid provided to this international organization, and to liquidate its legal entity in light of the accusations that considered it as the problem, not the solution, and one of the main obstacles to the unresolved conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis.


In June 2017, the Prime Minister of the Israeli occupation, Benjamin Netanyahu, called for "the dismantling of UNRWA, and the integration of its parts into the High Commissioner for Refugees. Washington and Israel do not hide their desire to dissolve UNRWA, and transfer its powers to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.


The Israeli occupation state accuses UNRWA of inflating the number of Palestinian refugees, because it benefits from this financially, claiming that its budget gives the Palestinian refugee a value four times the value of the other refugee from the rest of the world. Where the share of the Palestinian refugee is 246 dollars per month in requirements and needs compared to 58 dollars for other refugees.


Sixth: Summaries

·        The Agency (UNRWA) is directly targeted, not only financially, but also politically.

·        The international trends to solve the UNRWA crisis are related to the solutions and settlements being implemented in the region, especially the "deal of the century", and not to the implementation of UN Resolution 302, which created the agency, and based on Resolution 194.

·        There is a serious Israeli and American attempt to empty UNRWA of its operational content and to show that it is a failed organization or that it carries out actions that violate the goals for which it was established which calls on the international community to abolish UNRWA according to a resolution issued by the General Assembly.

·        These pressures are directly reflected in the services provided by the Agency to Palestinian refugees, in quantity and quality.

·        The suspension of UNRWA services to Palestinian refugees may undermine security and stability in the region.

Seventh: Recommendations:

In light of this reality, we in the Palestinian Association for Human Rights (witness) demand the following:

1.     Working on obtaining a resolution from the United Nations General Assembly in order to make the UNRWA budget part of its budget.

2.     UNRWA must double its efforts to secure sufficient funding to cover the needs of the Palestinian refugees.

3.     A system must put in place for the agency to set a guiding policy to rationalize spending that would lead to an end to the periodic deficit in its budget.

4.     Urging the international community and the donor countries in particular, to increase their financial contributions, in order to fill the gap of the reduction of United States in its contributions.

5.     Calling upon Arab and Islamic countries to increase their financial contributions to the various projects and emergency appeals funds.

6.     Taking advantage of the provision of running cost for services that have been suspended or reduced due to the Coronavirus.

7.     On the Palestinian side, we call for the need to consider the UNRWA issue as a first-class national issue and to confront the challenges it faces as a national concern.

8.     Activate Palestinian diplomacy in international forums and devote all efforts to preserving UNRWA.

Beirut, 11/11/2020

Palestinian Association for Human Rights (witness)