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UNRWA funding crisis alarms Palestinians in Lebanon

February 28, 2024

The main UN aid agency for Palestinian refugees says it is running out of money. Sixteen donor countries have frozen their funding over the alleged involvement of some UNRWA workers in the October 7 Hamas terror attacks in Israel. Unless a solution is found, Palestinians in Gaza and beyond will be severely affected.


[Video transcript]

This is what life looks in the Shatila refugee camp of Beirut. It is one of 12 Palestine refugee camps across Lebanon. They all depend on one organization to survive: UNRWA.

Nuha is 82. She suffers from hypertension and diabetes. UNRWA's clinic is the only healthcare facility she can afford. It has been providing her medicine for the past 12 years, so the news of UNRWA's unprecedented cash crisis is troubling her.

(Nuha, Palestinian Refugee)
"How will I get the medicine? Death would be better for me. I have no support but God."

Another crucial service provided by UNRWA: garbage collection.

"The camp will sink in trash in less than 24 hours if UNRWA does not collect the garbage," one official tells us.

For children, UNRWA's schools offer options in an environment full of danger. 

(Majdi Majzoub, Palestinian refugee)
"Without UNRWA schools, our children will end up in the streets or in coffee shops, probably armed. They would use drugs, especially that drug dealers are all over the place and it would be much easier to recruit these children off the streets."

(Mohamad Chreyteh, DW correspondent)
"The future of those school children depends on UNRWA. So does the health of those at the clinic. It’s not just that: UNRWA also pays rent and provides essentials like water and electricity. It is effectively the state in places like this.
Without the services that UNRWA currently provides, a quarter million Palestinians across Lebanon would be utterly destitute and increasingly desperate."

(Palestinian refugee)
"I can’t describe to you people's reaction if UNRWA stops. There will be riots and violent protests. It's not going to be easy."

UNRWA is struggling to keep a lid on feelings of frustration. 

(Dorothée Klaus, UNRWA country director)
"They're very, very worried. There is fear, there is anxiety, and it fosters and deepens a sense of hopelessness that's already present. So we're now starting to see refugees show(ing) up in our offices and yelling at our staff in great frustration and despair, and threatening to come back."

UNRWA has no mandate to secure Palestinian refugees' return to what used to be their homes. But most Palestinians refuse to separate its service delivery from "the right for return." The two issues are deeply intertwined in the minds of the refugees.

(Palestinian refugee)
"Dissolving UNRWA would end the Palestinian cause and the right for return. But also an elimination of all the social, educational, and medical services that it provides."

In crisis-hit Lebanon, and near the beginning of the month of Ramadan, the refugees' need for UNRWA's services is more critical than ever.