UN company for Palestinians could minimize salaries amid money crunch

Jerusalem, November 9

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees said Monday it needs to raise USD 70 million by the end of the month or it will not be able to pay the full salaries of thousands of employees through the end of the year.

The UN Relief and Works Agency, known as UNRWA, said it has notified its entire workforce of 28,000 that it will be forced to defer their salaries for the rest of the year.   

The agency said most of the workers affected are refugees themselves and the cuts will impact employees in countries across the Middle East.

“If additional funding is not pledged in the next weeks, UNRWA will be forced to defer partial salaries to all staff,” said the agency’s commissioner-general, Philippe Lazzarini.

“I am deeply saddened to know that the earned salaries of our fearless, resilient social, sanitation and health-care workers on the front lines and our teachers working to ensure students’ education continue during this emergency health crisis are at risk.”

The agency said in a statement that its funding had run out on Monday and that the cuts would be “major”. Tamara Alrifai, a spokeswoman, said it was not immediately known how severe the cuts would be.

UNRWA was established to aid the 700,000 Palestinians who fled or were forced from their homes during the war surrounding Israel’s establishment in 1948. It provides education, health care, food and other assistance to some 5.5 million refugees and their descendants in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. Alrifai said those services would not be affected by the cash crunch.

The agency’s finances have been ravaged by a decision by the Trump administration to slash hundreds of millions of dollars of aid as well as a crisis in confidence after its previous commissioner was accused of abusing his authority.         

President-elect Joe Biden has said he plans on restoring aid to the Palestinians.

Alrifai said that although the agency was hopeful Biden’s election might lead to a resumption of funding from the US, the current crisis required an immediate response. AP

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