U.N's Palestinian Aid Agency Unable to Pay Staff Salaries Due to Funding Shortfall

The U.N. Palestinian aid agency can't pay its 28,000 staff members this month because there isn't enough funding, the Associated Press reported.

Employees for the United Nations Relief and Work Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) went on strike Monday after hearing the news their salaries won't be paid on time. They ultimately stopped their strike after mediation, Philippe Lazzarini, head of UNRWA, told reporters.

The agency has $60 million toward the $100 million needed to keep the operations running until the end of the year. However, Lazzarini said he is uncertain about the timeline for the missed payment.

"I'm still not yet in a position to say when the November salaries will be paid," Lazzarini said.

The UNRWA is responsible for helping nearly 5.7 million Palestinian refugees by running schools, food distribution programs, and most importantly health clinics during the pandemic.

"If UNRWA health services are compromised in the middle of a global pandemic, COVID-19 vaccination rollout will come to an end. Maternal and childcare will stop, half a million girls and boys not knowing if they can continue learning, and over two million of the poorest Palestinian refugees will not get cash and food assistance," Lazzarini said.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Palestine, Gaza, United Nations, UNRWA
The head of the UNWRA said Tuesday that it was unable to pay its 28,000 staff members on time this month because of a major funding crisis, warning of potential cuts in vital services to millions of people amid a global pandemic. Above, Palestinian teachers sit in front of the UNRWA headquarters in Gaza City during a general strike of employees in UNRWA institutions in the Palestinian strip, on November 29, 2021. Mohammed Abed / AFP/Getty Images

The UNRWA helps registered Palestinian refugees across the Middle East, mainly the descendants of Palestinians who fled or were driven out of what is now Israel during the 1948 war surrounding its creation.

The millions of refugees mostly live in camps that have been transformed into built-up but often impoverished residential areas in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza, as well as Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.

Lazzarini told reporters in Jordan that the resumption of U.S. support for the agency this year—which had been halted by the Trump administration—was offset by a reduction in funding by other donors.

The agency also went through a management crisis in 2019, when its previous head resigned amid allegations of sexual misconduct, nepotism and other abuses of authority at the agency.

"The humanitarian needs of Palestinian refugees keep increasing while funding to the agency has stagnated since 2013."

Lazzarini said the agency raised enough donations at a recent conference in Brussels to cover up to 48 percent of its budget in 2022 and 2023.

Critics of UNRWA, including Israel, accuse it of perpetuating the 73-year refugee crisis and say host nations should shoulder the burden of absorbing them.

The Palestinians say the refugees and their descendants have a "right of return" to their homes in what is now Israel, a position supported by host countries. Israel rejects that, noting that if such a right were fully implemented it would leave the country with a Palestinian majority.

UNRWA, Palestinian refugees
The head of the UNWRA said Tuesday that it was unable to pay its 28,000 staff members on time this month because of a major funding crisis, warning of potential cuts in vital services to millions of people amid a global pandemic. Above, a bag of foodstuffs provided by the UNRWA lies in a cart as Palestinians collect food aid following a cease-fire reached after an 11-day war between Gaza's Hamas rulers and Israel, in Gaza City, on May 22, 2021. John Minchillo, File/AP Photo