|Palestine: Funding problems for refugee agency||More information|
Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) which looks
after the interests of 3.3 million Palestinian refugees does not have enough
money to continue with its work. One of its high ranking officials said
in the beginning of June that the agency was practically bankrupt.
UNRWA was set up 50 years ago to assist those Palestinians who became homeless with the creation of the State of Israel. These refugees were joined by other from Gaza and the West Bank after the 1967 war. Today the agency provides social services, health care and education to 3.3 million refugees in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and the occupied territories of Gaza and the West Bank.
Finical problems have beset the agency for many years but last year it stopped employing new people. About 22,000 Palestinians work for the UNRWA mainly as teachers, doctors and nurses.
The agency cut its proposed budget of $360 million for 1997 by $35 million. However, donor countries have only committed themselves to give $250 million. $70 million come from the United States only. During a meeting in Amman on June 11, UNRWA managed to obtain $4 million extra funds from Saudi Arabia, Sweden and the US.
The needs of Palestinian refugees are increasing rather than decreasing. Every year their population increases by 5%. These last years have brought more poverty with Israel closing the borders with the occupied territories for long periods. During these times Palestinians are unable to go to work or sell their produce.
Palestinian refugees suffer the consequences of any crisis in the Arab world. Before the Gulf War, hundreds of thousands used to work in Kuwait. After the war, many were suspected of collaboration with the Iraqis and expelled. In September 1995, Libya expelled thousands of Palestinians as a reaction to the Oslo peace accords.
The worse off among Palestinian refugees are those who, despite having left their country half a century ago, have not yet obtained the citizenship of the country in which they actually live. They only carry a UN document stating that they are refugees. Most of them are among the poorest and less educated of Palestinians. There are about two and a half million of such stateless Palestinians, mostly in camps in Jordan and Lebanon.
In Lebanon, there are one third of a million refugees scattered in some 12 camps that often lack clean water, electricity and proper drainage systems. Palestinians constitute 10% of the country's population but none of the politicians want to grant them citizenship. This would unbalance the delicate equilibrium between the many Christian and Moslem denominations. The refugees are only allowed to do work that no one else wants and they are not allowed to buy property or travel freely. The massacre committed by Israel's Lebanese allies in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila in 1982 was only one in a long series of atrocities carried out against Palestinians during the Lebanese civil war.
When the Oslo peace accords were signed in September 1993, many thought that this was the beginning of the end for the problems of Palestinian refugees. However, burning issues like this of the refugees and the final status of Jerusalem were left for further discussions in the future. At present, with the peace process stalled, a solution to the of Palestinian refugees seems very far away.
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