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Bankrupt UN Agency for Palestinian Refugees Forced to Cut Staff Salaries

By Lisa Schlein November 14, 2020

The U.N. Relief and Works Agency says it has run out of cash and will be forced to cut the salaries of 28,000 staffers for the rest of the year unless it raises $70 million by the end of the month.

UNRWA provides critical services for 5.7 million Palestinian refugees across the Middle East, including food and health assistance, education for half-a-million girls and boys, and protection.

Running out of cash in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, it says, is worsening the insecurity that many vulnerable refugees experience daily. UNRWA spokeswoman Tamara Alrifai says her agency works on the front lines of the crisis, treating patients and keeping them safe in quarantine centers.

She says there has been a huge uptick in the number of infections among Palestinian refugees, from about 200 cases in July to 17,000 now. She says lack of money is making it exceedingly difficult to provide telemedicine consultations, home delivery of medicine, remote education for children and other services.

"We are extremely worried about that development and about the fact that in less than five months we went from 200 to 17,000, including amongst UNRWA staff. And that has sadly led to the tragic death of some of our staff," she said.

Alrifai said most of UNRWA's 28,000 staffers are composed of Palestinian refugees themselves. She said they are part of their communities and their salaries contribute to stabilizing their families and larger communities.

"We usually cost $50 million per month per salary to 28,000 people, who deliver our services to 5.7 million Palestine refugees in the region. I do not have to remind this crowd that it is highly volatile and to which UNRWA contributes [to] stability, if only by running the basic services," she said.

Alrifai says stability in the region is partly a consequence of UNRWA's presence. She said $70 million must be received by the end of the month so UNRWA staff is paid in full and can continue its life-saving mission.

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