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UNRWA Commissioner-General to Palestine: 'We will not fail you'

Sept. 2, 2018 10:23 A.M. (Updated: Sept. 4, 2018 2:27 P.M.)
JERUSALEM (Ma'an) -- The Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), Pierre Krahenbuhl, expressed deep regret and disappointment on Saturday after the United States administration’s decision to end all funding to the agency.

Krahenbuhl wrote in an open letter "I express deep regret and disappointment at the nature of the US decision - which affects one of the most robust and rewarding partnerships in the humanitarian and development fields - and unreservedly reject its accompanying narrative."

He stressed "I wish to convey - with confidence and steadfast determination - to Palestine refugees in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, in Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, that our operations will continue and our agency prevail."

"The funding decision of an individual member state - albeit our historically most generous and consistent donor - will not modify or impact the energy and passion with which we approach our role and responsibility towards Palestine refugees. It will only strengthen our resolve."

Krahenbuhl continued "All staff will be at their duty stations, and will keep our installations open and safe. It is crucial to project the strongest sense of unity and purpose."

"I am proud and honored to lead this dynamic agency and wish to pay tribute to the dozens of colleagues whose lives were lost in recent years, in particular in Gaza, Syria and the West Bank."

He emphasized "The need for humanitarian action arises from the extreme violence, pain, suffering and injustice caused by war. In the case of Palestine refugees, this was caused by forced displacement, dispossession, loss of homes and livelihoods, as well as by statelessness and occupation."

"No matter how often attempts are made to minimize or delegitimize the individual and collective experiences of Palestine refugees, the undeniable fact remains that they have rights under international law and represent a community of 5.4 million men, women and children who cannot simply be wished away."

Krahenbuhl made it clear that UNRWA is not to blame for the protracted nature of Palestinian refugees, their growing numbers, and the growth of needs, stressing "it lies squarely with the parties and in the international community's lack of will or utter inability to bring about a negotiated and peaceful resolution of the conflict between Israel and Palestine."

He said "In January 2018, the US announced that its annual contribution to UNRWA would be $60 million. We acknowledged this important funding at the time but also highlighted the fact that it represented a $300 million reduction in income, which confronted our organization with an existential crisis. At no time over the past eight months were we notified of the specific reasons for the dramatic cut."

Krahenbuhl added that it appeared that the decision was related to the rising tensions between the US and the Palestinian Authority (PA) following the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, which represented an "evident politicization of humanitarian aid."

He mentioned that it is a radical change after almost seven decades of US aid to UNRWA and "it is inconsistent with the cooperation agreement signed in early December 2017 between the United States and UNRWA, in which the US recognized the robustness and integrity of our management of the organization and its resources and how we address our multiple operational, security and financial challenges."

Krahenbuhl went on to acknowledge the more than 25 countries that advanced their expected annual contributions to an earlier term in the year to help sustain UNRWA operations, as well as to the 30 donors who provided additional contributions to UNRWA's emergency activities and those who have signed new multi-year agreements with the agency.

"We are still in critical need of over $200 million to survive this year's crisis and call on donors to sustain the collective mobilization to succeed in this crucial endeavor."

Krahenbuhl concluded "I say again to all Palestine refugees: we will not fail you. Our partnership with you is stronger than ever. Your dignity is priceless."

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