UNRWA in ‘early warning mode’ after shortfall at pledging conference

UNRWA in ‘early warning mode’ after shortfall at pledging conference
The $100 million shortfall is about the same as UNRWA has faced every year for almost a decade. (Reuters/File)
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Updated 25 June 2022

UNRWA in ‘early warning mode’ after shortfall at pledging conference

UNRWA in ‘early warning mode’ after shortfall at pledging conference
  • Agency subject to smear campaign that ignores pioneering achievements, its chief tells Arab News
  • UN Relief and Works Agency supports millions of Palestinian refugees in Middle East

UNITED NATIONS: The solution to the chronic underfunding of the UN agency helping Palestinian refugees lies in a “political will” that matches declarations of support for its work, the head of the UN Relief and Works Agency told Arab News.

Philippe Lazzarini’s comments came at a press briefing a day after a pledging conference that raised $160 million from international donors.

This leaves the agency short of $100 million needed to support education for more than half a million Palestinian children, health care services for over 2 million people, and cash assistance for the poorest among them.

The $100 million shortfall is about the same as UNRWA has faced every year for almost a decade.

This year, however, skyrocketing costs mean the agency will not be able to absorb the shortfall through austerity and cost-control measures as “there’s very little left to cut without cutting services,” Lazzarini said, adding that the money should tide UNRWA over until September, but things are up in the air after that.

“We’re in an early warning mode,” he said. “Right now, I’m drawing attention that we’re in a danger zone and we have to avoid a situation where UNRWA is pushed to cross the tipping point, because if we cross the tipping point that means 28,000 teachers, health workers, nurses, doctors, engineers can’t be paid.”

He added that UNRWA has a very strong donor base in Europe, and last year the Biden administration restored funding, reversing former US President Donald Trump’s aid freeze.

But Lazzarini said the overall contribution from the Arab world has dropped to less than 3 percent of the agency’s income.

“What’s also true is that the Arab world and the Gulf countries have always shown great solidarity with Palestinian refugees, and have always been involved in financing the construction of schools and clinics, and whenever there was a humanitarian emergency, to contribute to the humanitarian response,” he added. “This is very important to keep.”

He said the Arab League has been discussing for two years that its contribution to UNRWA should at least amount to 7-8 percent of the agency’s core budget.

“There’s room for increased solidarity, and having the region committed means a lot to the Palestinians,” he added.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine cast a shadow over the donor conference, where some admitted to financial difficulties and donor fatigue.

“Funding the agency’s services has been put at risk today because of de-prioritization, or maybe increased indifference, or because of domestic politics,” Lazzarini said. “We’ll know better at the end of the year how much it will impact the agency.”

Some donors have already warned UNRWA “that we might not have the traditional top-up at the end of the year, which would be dramatic” for the agency, he added.

UNRWA was established in 1949 following a resolution by the UN General Assembly to carry out relief efforts for the 750,000 Palestinians who were forced from their homes when Israel was established in 1948.

There are now about 6 million Palestinian refugees living in camps in the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, as well as in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.

“Today, we have some classrooms with up to 50 kids,” Lazzarini said. “We have a double shift in our schools. We have doctors who can’t spend more than three minutes in medical consultation. So if we go beyond that, it will force the agency to cut services.”

UNRWA’s problem is that “we’re expected to provide government-like services to one of the most destitute communities in the region, but we’re funded like an NGO because we depend completely on voluntary contributions,” he added.

Ahead of Thursday’s donor conference, Gilad Erdan, Israel’s permanent UN representative, had urged countries to stop contributions until UNRWA fires teachers that his country claims support terrorism and killing Jews.

Lazzarini said UNRWA received a letter from Israel’s UN Mission on Friday that he had not read, but all allegations will be investigated and if there is a breach of UN values and misconduct, “we’ll take measures in line with UN policies.”

He added that UNRWA’s detractors are usually civil society organizations that “seek to undermine the agency, usually target lawmakers, and talk about (UNRWA’s) textbooks and education in schools without acknowledging the extraordinary efforts exerted by the agency to ensure quality education in line with UNESCO standards.

“I keep reminding we’re the only ones having reached gender equality, having a proper human rights curriculum in the region, that we’re regularly assessed by third parties.

“The World Bank assessed that we’re high value for money when it comes to education. Children are one year ahead compared to public education in the region.

“We have extraordinary human success stories of kids who have gone to our schools and succeeded at international level.”

He said UNRWA’s operations are among the most heavily scrutinized but “despite that, there’s smear campaign on issues — which sometimes need indeed to be addressed — but which never acknowledge the efforts being put by the agency.”
 


Cleric’s supporters again storm Baghdad’s government zone

Cleric’s supporters again storm Baghdad’s government zone
Updated 14 min 8 sec ago

Cleric’s supporters again storm Baghdad’s government zone

Cleric’s supporters again storm Baghdad’s government zone
  • Al-Sadr’s bloc won the most votes in parliamentary elections last October but he has been unable to form a majority government

BAGHDAD: Supporters of Iraq’s influential Shiite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr again stormed Baghdad’s Green Zone government area Wednesday as the Iraqi parliament holds session on the resignation of its speaker.
Associated Press journalists saw those supporting Sadr waving flags as security forces gathered around them.
Al-Sadr’s bloc won the most votes in parliamentary elections last October but he has been unable to form a majority government. His followers stormed the parliament in late July to prevent their rivals from Iran-backed Shiite groups from forming the government.
With ensuing rallies, clashes with security forces, counter-rallies and a sit-in outside parliament, the government formation process has stalled.
Al-Sadr has now been calling for the dissolution of parliament and early elections and has been in a power struggle with his Iran-backed rivals since the vote.


Kurdish officials: Iran launches new drone bombings in Iraq

Kurdish officials: Iran launches new drone bombings in Iraq
Updated 33 min 16 sec ago

Kurdish officials: Iran launches new drone bombings in Iraq

Kurdish officials: Iran launches new drone bombings in Iraq
  • The Iranian drone strikes targeted a military camp, homes, offices and other areas around Koya
  • Tehran did not immediately acknowledge the attack

KOYA, Iraq: Iran launched a new drone bombing campaign Wednesday targeting the bases of an Iranian-Kurdish opposition group in northern Iraq amid demonstrations engulfing the Islamic Republic, Kurdish officials said.
The strikes early Wednesday focused on Koya, some 60 kilometers (35 miles) east of Irbil, said Soran Nuri, a member of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan. The group, known by the acronym KDPI, is a leftist armed opposition force banned in Iran.
The Iranian drone strikes targeted a military camp, homes, offices and other areas around Koya, Nuri said. Nuri described the attack as ongoing.
An Associated Press journalist saw ambulances racing through Koya after the strikes.
Tehran did not immediately acknowledge the attack. On Saturday and Monday, Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard unleashed a wave of drone and artillery strikes targeting Kurdish positions.
The attacks appear to be a response to the ongoing protests roiling Iran over the death of a 22-year-old Iranian Kurdish woman who was detained by the nation’s morality police.
The United Nations Secretary-General called on Iran early Wednesday to refrain from using “unnecessary or disproportionate force” against protesters as unrest over a young woman’s death in police custody spread across the country.
Antonio Guterres said through a spokesman that authorities should swiftly conduct an impartial investigation of the death of Mahsa Amini, which has sparked unrest across Iran’s provinces and the capital of Tehran.
“We are increasingly concerned about reports of rising fatalities, including women and children, related to the protests,” UN spokesman Stéphane Dujarric in a statement. “We underline the need for prompt, impartial and effective investigation into Ms. Mahsa Amini’s death by an independent competent authority.”
Protests have spread across at least 46 cities, towns and villages in Iran. State TV reported that at least 41 protesters and police have been killed since the protests began Sept. 17.
An Associated Press count of official statements by authorities tallied at least 14 dead, with more than 1,500 demonstrators arrested.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, meanwhile, said it documented the arrests of at least 23 journalists as the clashes between security forces and protesters heated up.
CPJ in a Wednesday statement called on Iranian authorities to “immediately” release arrested journalists who covered Amini’s death and protests.
Dujarric added that Guterres stressed the need to respect human rights, including freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association during the meeting with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi on September 22nd.


Three killed in Israel Jenin raid: Palestinian ministry

Three killed in Israel Jenin raid: Palestinian ministry
Updated 29 min 33 sec ago

Three killed in Israel Jenin raid: Palestinian ministry

Three killed in Israel Jenin raid: Palestinian ministry
  • The Israeli army confirmed in a tweet that troops were “operating in Jenin”
  • The raids have sparked clashes that have killed dozens of Palestinians, including fighters

RAMALLAH: Three Palestinians were killed Wednesday during an Israeli West Bank raid targeting alleged militants, including the brother of a man blamed for a deadly attack in Tel Aviv, the Palestinian health ministry said.
The Palestinian health ministry recorded three deaths during the raid in Jenin, including Abed Hazem, brother of Raad Hazem, named as the killer of three Israelis in a Tel Aviv shooting spree on April 7.
The Israeli army confirmed troops had shot dead “two suspects involved in a number of recent shooting attacks.”
The Israeli army confirmed in a tweet that troops were “operating in Jenin,” a militant stronghold that has suffered near daily violence. It did not immediately provide further details of the raid.
Since March, Israel has launched hundreds of operations in the northern West Bank, including Jenin and nearby Nablus, in pursuit of individuals it accuses of involvement in deadly attacks targeting Israelis.
The raids have sparked clashes that have killed dozens of Palestinians, including fighters.

 


 


Iranian woman died of ‘blow to the head’: family in Iraq

Iranian woman died of ‘blow to the head’: family in Iraq
Updated 11 sec ago

Iranian woman died of ‘blow to the head’: family in Iraq

Iranian woman died of ‘blow to the head’: family in Iraq
  • ‘By the time she reached hospital she was already dead from a medical point of view’

SULAIMANIYAH: Iranian Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini was visiting Tehran with her family when she encountered the notorious morality police and died after a “violent blow to the head,” her cousin living in Iraq said.
“Jhina’s death has opened the doors of popular anger,” said Erfan Salih Mortezaee, 34, using Amini’s Kurdish first name and referring to the ongoing wave of protests that her death has sparked.
In a phone call after the young woman’s death was announced, Amini’s mother told him what happened when her 22-year-old daughter was detained, Mortezaee said.
AFP spoke with Mortezaee in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region — bordering Amini’s native Kurdistan province in Iran — where he has been living for a year.
There he joined Iranian Kurdish nationalist group Komala, which has conducted a long-running cross-border insurgency against the Tehran authorities, seeking autonomy for Kurdish-populated areas of northwestern Iran.
Mortezaee said that, before starting university, Amini had gone to Tehran with her parents and 17-year-old brother to visit relatives.
On September 13, Amini, her brother and female relatives went out in the capital.
On leaving the Haghani underground station, “the morality police stopped them, arresting Jhina and her relatives,” Mortezaee said.
Wearing military fatigues and speaking at a Komala base in the Sulaimaniyah area of northern Iraq, Mortezaee said Amini’s brother tried to tell the police that they were “in Tehran for the first time” and “did not know the (local) traditions.”
But his appeals fell on deaf ears.
“The police officer told him, ‘We are going to take her in, instil the rules in her and teach her how to wear the hijab and how to dress’,” Mortezaee said.
Amini was “dressed normally. Like all women in Iran, she was wearing the hijab,” her cousin added.
In Iran, women — regardless of their faith — are required to cover their hair, and the morality police bans them from wearing coats above the knee, tight trousers, bright colors or torn jeans.
The code has been widely skirted for decades, particularly in major cities, but there have been periodic crackdowns.
“The police officers hit Jhina, they hit her in front of her brother,” Mortezaee said.
“They slapped her, they hit her hands and legs with a baton,” said Mortezaee, adding that they also sprayed her brother in the face with pepper spray.
Jhina and her relatives were forced into the morality police van and taken to a station on Vezarat Street.
The beatings continued during the ride, Mortezaee said.
“When they hit her in the head with the baton, she lost consciousness,” he said. “One of the officers said: ‘She’s putting on an act’.”
After they arrived, it was at least another hour and a half before she was taken to a Tehran hospital, despite pleas from her relatives, Mortezaee said.
After three days in a coma, she was pronounced dead.
Amini’s mother said doctors at the hospital told the family that her daughter “had received a violent blow to the head,” Mortezaee said.
Iranian authorities have denied all involvement in Amini’s death, which has sparked 12 consecutive nights of protests and a security crackdown.
“What is happening in Kurdistan and everywhere else in Iran is popular anger against the Islamic republic’s regime, against the dictatorship,” Mortezaee said.
At least 76 people have been killed in the demonstrations, according to the Oslo-based group Iran Human Rights (IHR), while Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency has put the toll at “around 60.”
Authorities said Monday they had made more than 1,200 arrests.
The protests come at a particularly sensitive time for Iran’s leadership, when the country’s economy remains mired in a crisis largely caused by US sanctions over its nuclear program.
The country has seen protests in recent years, including deadly demonstrations in November 2019 over fuel price rises.
But this time “women are taking the lead and are actively taking part in the protests,” Mortezaee said.
“Women are participating in the demonstrations courageously and are taking to the streets, day and night,” he said.
“We the youth know that if this regime falls, a better life awaits us.”


UAE and Oman sign 16 agreements in transport, energy, and finance

UAE and Oman sign 16 agreements in transport, energy, and finance
Updated 28 September 2022

UAE and Oman sign 16 agreements in transport, energy, and finance

UAE and Oman sign 16 agreements in transport, energy, and finance
  • UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed arrived in Oman on Tuesday for a two-day visit
  • Sultan Haitham bin Tariq hosted a dinner banquet for his Emirati counterpart

DUBAI: The UAE and Oman signed 16 agreements in transport, energy, industry, and finance on the sidelines of UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed’s visit to Muscat.
As part of the agreements, the national railway operators of both countries established a joint company with investment of about $3.01 billion to set up and operate a railway linking Oman’s Sohar port with the UAE’s network, Oman's state news agency reported on Wednesday.
Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed arrived in Oman on Tuesday for a two-day visit.

 


He was received by Sultan Haitham bin Tariq of Oman before both leaders engaged in talks on strengthening bilateral ties at Al-Alam Palace.
“Their talks centered around the two leaders’ shared vision for a secure and stable region that promotes sustainable development and supports a thriving economy where people can realise their full potential,” according to a statement on the Emirates News Agency
Sultan Haitham bin Tariq hosted a dinner banquet for his Emirati counterpart on the first day of his visit. Both leaders also exchanged medals and gifts at Al-Alam Palace.