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.”
 


Egypt sends aid to flood-hit Sudan

Egypt sends aid to flood-hit Sudan
Updated 18 August 2022

Egypt sends aid to flood-hit Sudan

Egypt sends aid to flood-hit Sudan
  • Tens of thousands of homes have been destroyed or damaged by torrential rains and floods, according to the Sudanese Civil Defense

CAIRO: Egypt has sent five military transport planes loaded with tons of relief aid to Sudan, where floods have killed 77 people and injured more than 30.

A spokesman for Egypt’s military said the aid comes “in the framework of Egypt’s support and solidarity with the brotherly Sudanese people.”

The aid includes tents, blankets, foodstuffs, medicines and medical supplies provided by the defense and health ministries.

Tens of thousands of homes have been destroyed or damaged by torrential rains and floods, according to the Sudanese Civil Defense.

Heavy rains usually fall in Sudan between May and September, a period when the country experiences flash floods that damage housing, infrastructure and crops.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that 38,000 people across Sudan have been affected by rains and floods since the start of this season.


Morocco: 13 migrants sent to prison for Spain crossing bid

Morocco: 13 migrants sent to prison for Spain crossing bid
Updated 18 August 2022

Morocco: 13 migrants sent to prison for Spain crossing bid

Morocco: 13 migrants sent to prison for Spain crossing bid
  • At least 23 died that day in what Moroccan authorities called a stampede
  • The Moroccan Association for Human Rights described the ruling as a “very harsh verdict”

RABAT, Morocco: A Moroccan court has sentenced 13 migrants, mostly from Sudan, to 2 and a half years in prison over a mass attempt to scale the border fence separating Morocco from the Spanish enclave of Melilla.
The decision Wednesday in the northern Moroccan city of Nador was the latest — and toughest — ruling handed down after dozens of people were arrested for the June 24 crossing attempt. At least 23 died that day in what Moroccan authorities called a stampede, as hundreds of people stormed the fence in a desperate bid to reach Europe.
The Moroccan Association for Human Rights described Wednesday’s ruling as a “very harsh verdict which shows how the judiciary was mobilized in the service of migration policies at the expense of asylum-seeking migrants.”
The 13 were convicted of various charges including illegal entry into Moroccan territory, violence against public officials, armed gathering, disobedience and joining a gang to organize and facilitate clandestine immigration abroad and arson. The court also ordered each of the defendants to pay 1,000 dirham (nearly $100).
Most of the 13 were from Sudan, and others were from Chad and South Sudan, according to activists who followed the case.
Last month, another Nador court sentenced 33 people to 11 months in prison over the June 24 crossing attempt. That court also sentenced 14 people earlier this month to eight months in prison in the same case.


Israeli forces kill Palestinian in West Bank clashes, medics say

Israeli forces kill Palestinian in West Bank clashes, medics say
Updated 18 August 2022

Israeli forces kill Palestinian in West Bank clashes, medics say

Israeli forces kill Palestinian in West Bank clashes, medics say
  • Witnesses said the clashes erupted when Israeli forces arrived to guard Jewish worshipers visiting Joseph’s Tomb
  • Palestine Red Crescent: Four Palestinians were shot and one of them was killed

JERUSALEM: Israeli forces killed a Palestinian in predawn clashes in the occupied West Bank city of Nablus on Thursday, Palestinian medics said. The Israeli army said he was armed and shooting at soldiers, something the Palestinians denied.
Witnesses said the clashes erupted when Israeli forces arrived to guard Jewish worshipers visiting Joseph’s Tomb, a Jewish shrine that has been a flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Four Palestinians were shot and one of them, an 18-year-old, was killed, the Palestine Red Crescent said. At least 30 Palestinians were wounded in all.
Later in the day, in a separate development, Israeli security forces raided seven non-governmental organizations in the West Bank, confiscating computers and equipment before sealing off the entrances, Palestinian witnesses and officials said.
This followed a decision by Israel to designate the groups as terrorist organizations, accusing them of funneling donor aid to Palestinian militants, a move that has drawn criticism from the United Nations and human rights watchdogs. The designation was ratified on Wednesday.
Nine European Union states have said they would continue working with the groups, citing a lack of evidence for the Israeli accusation.
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz reiterated Israel’s position that the organizations had operated undercover to serve the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), which has carried out deadly attacks on Israelis and is on US and EU terrorism blacklists.
“They also assist in raising funds for the terrorist organization via a variety of methods that include forgery and fraud,” Gantz said.
Hussein Al-Sheikh, a senior official in the Palestinian Authority, said on Twitter that the “storming of civil work institutions ... is a dangerous escalation and is an attempt to silence the voice of truth and justice.”
“We will appeal to all official international bodies and human rights institutions to intervene immediately to condemn this occupier behavior and place pressure on them to reopen the institutions and to be able to exercise their activities freely,” Sheikh said.


Iranian activists stand with woman jailed over hijab rule in viral video 

Iranian activists stand with woman jailed over hijab rule in viral video 
A few days after the video was shared, Rashno disappeared. (Social Media)
Updated 18 August 2022

Iranian activists stand with woman jailed over hijab rule in viral video 

Iranian activists stand with woman jailed over hijab rule in viral video 
  • The video expresses their solidarity to Sepideh Rashno, the 28-year-old Iranian writer and artist who was arrested for refusing to wear a headscarf

A video posted online by a group of Iranian female activists supporting a woman, who was arrested for violating Iran’s mandatory hijab rule, has gone viral days after she was seen confessing to the crime allegedly under duress, Radio Farda reported on Wednesday. 

Prominent Iranian activist Masih Alinejad shared a video online on Aug. 16, in which she and other female activists recited a poem entitled ‘The Confession’ by an anonymous poet. 

 

The poem expresses their solidarity to Sepideh Rashno, the 28-year-old Iranian writer and artist who was arrested on June 15 after a video of her arguing with another woman over her refusal to wear a headscarf was posted online. 

Mooniter, the pseudonym of one of the female activists who participated in the video to support Rashno, said the poem was aimed at “raising the voices of women like Sepideh” and “women and people who have been taken hostage in Iran,” according to Radio Farda. 

Rashno was riding a bus in Tehran without a hijab when a stranger took a video of her and threatened to send it to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, Radio Farda reported.  

A few days after the video was shared, Rashno disappeared. Iranian state television then aired a clip of Rashno’s “confession” on July 30 where she appeared to be in a poor physical state, the report added.

The 28-year-old had allegedly been beaten prior to appearing on TV and was later hospitalized immediately after confessing to breaking the hijab law, according to reports.


Jordan authorities warn against indiscriminate gunfire over exam results

Jordan authorities warn against indiscriminate gunfire over exam results
Updated 18 August 2022

Jordan authorities warn against indiscriminate gunfire over exam results

Jordan authorities warn against indiscriminate gunfire over exam results

DUBAI:  Jordan’s Public Security Directorate (PSD) warned individuals against firing guns indiscriminately in celebration of exam results, state news agency Petra has reported.

The celebratory practice of discharging firearms, so-called ‘festive gunfire,’ is a persistent problem in Jordan and has led to serious injury and even fatalities as gravity causes the bullets fired in the air to descend at the same speed, hitting unsuspecting bystanders.

King Abdullah even described the tribal tradition as a “clear violation of the law and an act against the health and safety of society” in his Twitter account.

Estimates show that from 2013 to 2018, between 1,500 and 1,869 people were killed by stray bullets fired in celebration, while the injury rate was far higher.

Authorities have pledged “stricter control over celebratory gunfire and stated that anyone engaging in such conduct will be arrested,” state news agency Petra reported.

Warnings have also been issued against those engaging in serious traffic violations such as unlawful motorcades, hanging out of car windows and sunroofs and reckless driving to celebrate the release of the Tawjihi results.

Tawjihi is the country’s general secondary national examination for all students who plan to continue studying for their undergraduate and graduate degrees in Jordan. Students who pass are awarded the Tawjihi – Jordanian General Secondary School Certificate.

It’s when the exam results are issued that young people celebrate by driving with people leaning out of the windows and people firing guns.

In response the US embassy in Jordan has issued a safety alert highlighting these practices.

“As part of the celebrations expect congested traffic, more aggressive drivers, and celebratory gunfire. The results of the Tawjihi exams are often published with little or no warning.  Last year the results were published in the early morning,” its alert noted.

“US government personnel are advised to exercise caution and to take cover and move away from the area if they observe gunfire,” it added.

The diplomatic post also issued reminders to avoid public gatherings and festivities, increase awareness, review personal security protocols, or contact police authorities in face of immediate danger or threats.