NEW YORK, 5th December, 2016 (WAM) — A total of 20 donors announced on Monday contributions, or their intention to contribute, to the 2017 budget of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), as officials urged stable financing for the Agency amid devastating conflicts and violence in the Middle East.

The voluntary contributions were made during a meeting of the Agency’s Ad Hoc Committee, established by the General Assembly as the primary forum for announcing financial support. UNRWA has been providing health, education, relief and social services, and emergency humanitarian assistance to some 5.3 million Palestinian refugees across its five fields of operation Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip for 65 years.

Pierre Krahenbuhl, Commissioner-General for the UNRWA, said that at a time of great uncertainty, devastating conflicts and violence, he was often asked why the world should care about Palestine refugees, who made up the largest refugee community in the world. Although some thought that the issue was overshadowed by other crises in the Middle East, no one could be more fatigued than Palestine refugees, he said, emphasising that in Lebanon, they lived in overcrowded camps and faced diverse forms of exclusion. In the West Bank, the Bedouin community had been threatened with forcible transfer and the destruction of their traditional ways of life.

Why human rights did not apply to Palestine refugees required urgent answering, he continued, stressing the need for a political solution. The absence of political and personal horizons was creating conditions that did not reconcile with dignity and security of anyone in the region. “None of us would accept to live for two thirds of a century in a state of limbo created by the lack of political will to resolve one of the most critical conflicts of our time,” he said, emphasising that the world could not afford to forget about Palestine refugees. Otherwise, it would be a major abrogation of the international community’s collective responsibility.

That indifference, he stated, would be a violation of global responsibilities to help those in distress and left furthest behind. “Could we credibly proclaim our attachment to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 for all man and womankind while not upholding these goals for Palestine refugees?” he asked, noting that indifference could not be an option in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Syria.

In the light of extreme circumstances, he pledged that UNRWA would work decisively and energetically to uphold the rights of Palestine refugees, and to preserve young people’s access to education and job opportunities. He further pledged to engage with all stakeholders to improve the Agency’s response and performance, and preserve its strength. In addition, he committed to mobilise the best possible levels of diplomatic and financial support.

For many years, UNRWA had deployed limitless energy and creativity to secure the resources needed for its vital work, he said. However, addressing persistent funding shortfalls of the Agency’s core programs was debilitating and energy sapping. For the 2016 programme budget, it still lacked $37 million, he said, expressing hope that the gap would be bridged in the coming years. In fact, its budget would have to increase by 5 per cent, to $715 million, in order to preserve operations at their current level. The gap between projected income and expenditure in 2017 would be $115 million, and over $950 million was needed for the emergency appeals and projects such as shelter repair in Gaza and the reconstruction of Nahr el-Bared camp in Lebanon.

“If we are to stabilise UNRWA, which plays such a pivotal role in providing services, dignity and protection to a highly vulnerable refugee population, a collective approach is going to be required with buy-in by all stakeholders,” he said, adding that its form remained to be determined. Amid high stakes, the world could not afford to abandon Palestine refugees.