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Palestinian refugees UNRWA chief praises Swiss donor support

Palestinian students pose for a photo in a Kabri School, Lebanon

Palestinian students pose for a photo at Kabri School run by the United Nations Works and Relief Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) in Beirut, Lebanon, on September 5, 2018

(Keystone)

Pierre Krähenbühl, the head of the United Nations agency that supports Palestinian refugees, says he is encouraged by the signs of early donor support from Switzerland. 

On Tuesday, Krähenbühl, commissioner-general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA)external link, appealed to states for $1.2 billion (CHF1.2 billion) for 2019, urging them to maintain funding levels attained last year after major cuts in aid from the United States. 

The humanitarian official welcomed signs that Switzerland would make an early annual contribution for 2019. He said Swiss donations to UNRWA had always been “robust” and “generous”. 

Switzerland contributed CHF21.2 million for its operations in 2018 and promised an additional CHF7 million for institutional reforms.

The question of how much Switzerland donates to UNRWA along with its long-term support will be examined in a government report currently being finalisedexternal link

Last May, comments made by Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis about UNRWA’s work being a stumbling block to peace in the Middle East caused surprise and consternation. Swiss President Alain Berset immediately intervened, stating that there was no change in policy towards UNRWA, which remains a strategic partner for the country.

Last year, UNRWA was confronted with a difficult financial situation. The US, which traditionally supplied nearly 30% of UNRWA’s budget, promised $365 million in 2018, but paid only a first instalment of $60 million before announcing in August that it would halt all future donations. The move was widely seen as a means of pressuring the Palestinian leadership to enter peace negotiations with Israel. 

The financial shortfall was eventually made up by other donors. More than 40 states and institutions increased their assistance. Krähenbühl said on Tuesday that there were no indications states’ contributions would decrease in 2019. 

Last year, UNRWA had to cut certain services due to the financial pressures, but no programmes were suspended. A total of 118 employees in the Gaza Strip lost their jobs, however, and the UN agency faced three weeks of protests.

Founded in 1949, UNRWAexternal link focuses on providing essential services to some 5.4 million Palestinian refugees across Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank and the Gaza Strip, including running 700 schools and 150 health clinics.

Keystone SDA/sb

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