UN agency: We’ll continue to serve 5.3m Palestinian refugees
UN agency: We’ll continue to serve 5.3m Palestinian refugees
In an exclusive interview with Arab News, Roger Davies, the field director of UNRWA (UN Relief and Works Agency) in Jordan, said: “We often hear that UNRWA will change and that its services will be carried out by (the UN refugee agency) UNHCR, I hear that everywhere. I understand that, but I assure everyone that we work on the basis of a clear mandate and only the UN General Assembly can change our mandate and not member countries.”
Davies said that UNRWA is a temporary agency and since its formation in 1949, it has had to renew its mandate every three years. In the most recent decision,167 countries renewed UNRWA’s mandate. The current mandate is valid until the next vote in June 2020.
Davies, a UK national, told Arab News that the agency is trying its best to meet all its obligations despite the recent cut in funding by the US. “We are not focusing on what we will stop. We will continue to serve the 5.3 million Palestinian refugees. We have a UN mandate and member states have an obligation to find the needed funds to help us carry out this mandate.”
The Jan. 16 US decision to hold back $65 million of the agreed $125 million was a break of the Trump administration’s commitment. The US decision came after the close of a year in which the agency was already $49 million short, thus causing a big cashflow problem.
“Every year the Americans have come through with the biggest support in cash and advocacy. So when that is not there, we have lost a lot,” said Davies.
The UNRWA official said that 11 countries have come through with advancing the agency committed monies that were supposed to be paid at a later stage to help the agency to address its operational commitments.
“We have an annual operating budget of $760 million which goes to pay doctors and teachers and other operating costs. On top of that we have requests for construction of schools and a separate emergency appeals for the occupied territories and for Palestinian refugees caught up in the Syrian crisis who have to flee to Jordan and Lebanon. The construction and emergency appeals come up to another $800 million.”
While the Arab League has committed to support 7.8 percent of the annual UNRWA operating budget, Davies says that last year Arab countries contributed only 3.5 percent, even though Saudi Arabia has made large contributions to the construction, development, and emergency funds, making it overall the third largest contributor to UNRWA.
As for the American contributions, Davies said he doesn’t know what they want to do. “We are a humanitarian organization and we have to ask everyone to help us, and we realize and it is the sovereign right of every donor to decide how much to contribute.”
Since the negative US decision, UNRWA has launched a “dignity is priceless” global campaign and will be convening a major fundraising event soon. Davies says the agency will focus on trying to secure support from the World Bank, the Islamic Development Bank and others, especially in Asia and among member states in the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC). “We have been accredited to receive zakat donations and are pursuing OIC countries which made a specific recommendation to support UNRWA.”
The director of Jordan field operations says that even though 2.2 million out of the overall 5.3 million Palestinian refugees live in Jordan, the agency spends only 20 percent of its budget in Jordan. As a result of the recent US decisions, Davies told Arab News, the agency had to let go more than 100 sanitation workers who were employed on a contract basis.
Davies says sanitation is the biggest challenge in Baqaa, Jordan’s largest camp, and the people have noticed that. “We collect every day, but we can’t cover big areas.”
Davies told Arab News that to address this problem the UN agency has had to make “arrangements with the local refugee community, encourage volunteering and initiate an awareness campaign to convince refugees to use the containers and not to throw garbage in the streets.”
White House Mideast team holds talks with Jordanian king
- The US has been trying to rally support for projects to rescue Gaza’s economy, which has been weakened by an Israeli-Egyptian blockade, while continuing to isolate Hamas
- Jared Kushner’s team plans stops in Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. No talks with the Palestinians are scheduled, though the Americans have left the door open to meeting with them
AMMAN: President Donald Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, kicked off a swing through the Middle East on Tuesday, meeting with Jordan’s king as part of a broader effort to lay the groundwork for an expected Israeli-Palestinian peace plan.
Kushner and White House envoy Jason Greenblatt held talks with Jordan’s King Abdullah, a key US ally.
A White House statement said the talks focused on US-Jordan cooperation, the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip and the US efforts “to “facilitate peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.”
US officials have said their peace plan is near completion and could be released this summer. But it faces resistance from the Palestinians, who have cut off ties since Trump recognized contested Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last December and moved the US Embassy in Israel to the holy city last month. The Palestinians, who seek Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem as their capital, accuse the US of siding with Israel in the most sensitive issue of their decades-long conflict.
Kushner’s team also plans stops in Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. No talks with the Palestinians are scheduled, though the Americans have left the door open to meeting with them.
The Palestinians seek all of the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza Strip for an independent state. Israel captured the territories in the 1967 Mideast war. It withdrew from Gaza in 2005, and Hamas militants seized control of the territory two years later.
The US has been trying to rally support for projects to rescue Gaza’s economy, which has been weakened by an Israeli-Egyptian blockade, while continuing to isolate Hamas. The US, Israel and Western allies shun Hamas as a terrorist group. Details of the plan have not been released, but Palestinians fear they will get little more than a symbolic foothold in Jerusalem. They also fear that aid to Gaza will help strengthen Hamas’ control over the territory.
Jordan also has a stake in east Jerusalem, serving as the custodian of major Muslim and Christian shrines there. Jerusalem’s walled Old City, captured and annexed by Israel in 1967, is home to Muslim, Christian and Jewish holy sites.
Abdullah has also rejected Trump’s moves in Jerusalem. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refuses to relinquish any part of the city.
Netanyahu traveled to Amman on Monday for a surprise meeting with Abdullah, telling the king that Israel remains committed to the status quo of the holy sites in Jerusalem.
Abdullah told Netanyahu that the fate of Jerusalem must be determined in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, and that a solution should be based on establishing a Palestinian state, with east Jerusalem as its capital, on lands Israel captured in 1967.
Palestinian officials fear the Trump administration plan will leave them with a mini-state in the Gaza Strip, parts of the West Bank and a foothold in Jerusalem. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has said he will reject any plan being floated by the Trump team, arguing that the US has forfeited its role as mediator because of decisions seen as pro-Israel.