BEIRUT: UNRWA Wednesday officially launched an appeal for $277 million in funding for its humanitarian response to the Syria crisis, a component of a wider $1.2 billion funding appeal that was launched a day earlier.
The Syria Regional Crisis Emergency Appeal will aim to provide humanitarian assistance to Palestine refugees in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon, according to a statement from the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees.
At a briefing in Beirut, UNRWA Deputy Director in Syria Michael Amanya detailed the dire situation for Palestinian refugees in Syria. Of the 438,000 refugees who have remained in the country after the war, 95 percent are currently dependent on the agency. Before the war, only 6 percent of the refugees relied on UNRWA.
The $277 million appeal will aim to provide emergency cash assistance to 418,000 Palestinian refugees in Syria in addition to 28,800 in Lebanon and 18,500 in Jordan, according to the statement.
The broader $1.2 billion is needed to maintain UNRWA’s operations in 2019. UNRWA’s Lebanon Director Claudio Cordone said at the briefing that this was the same amount the agency had received in 2018.
Last year, the agency faced what Cordone described as “the worst financial crisis in our history and from what I understand the worst financial crisis of any humanitarian organization of the U.N.”
The crippling funding crisis was caused by the United States’ decision to cancel its aid contributions, leaving UNRWA with a $446 million deficit at the beginning of 2018.
UNRWA managed to overcome the cuts after Gulf countries including the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia each donated $50 million. The European Union donated another $45.7 million.
But Cordone noted that in order to achieve UNRWA’s financial goals in 2018, the agency had to make some unfortunate cuts and imposed “some very strict cost saving measures.”
“In the Gaza Strip, we had 118 people who lost their jobs. We had to reduce some programs; our staff had effectively lost some of their benefits. So it has been a very tough year, but we have managed with all the sacrifices to maintain the key services to the refugee communities.”
According to UNRWA’s announcement Tuesday, most of the $1.2 billion would go to keeping up the agency’s vital core services for 5.4 million Palestinian refugees across the Middle East, encompassing education, health, relief and social services and emergency humanitarian aid to occupied Palestine.