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Saudi Arabia consolidates its commitment to Palestinian refugees with UNRWA contribution 25 times the amount pledged

AMMAN: For decades, Saudi Arabia has been one of the largest donors to Palestinian refugees, financially aiding camps in the occupied territories and throughout the Middle East and swelling the coffers of relief agencies working in the region .

Since Israel occupied the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, millions of Palestinians have depended on the aid provided by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East .

This week, UNRWA recognized a $27 million contribution from Saudi Arabia to support programs in the region, bringing the Kingdom’s total donations to the $50 million pledge it made this year. .

Over the past 20 years, the Kingdom has donated more than $1 billion to the agency, making it one of the largest donor states. The latest donations will help support the more than two million Palestinians in need of humanitarian assistance.

Created in 1949, UNRWA’s initial mandate was to provide assistance and protection to Palestinian refugees, pending a just and lasting solution to their plight.

Over the years, however, it has evolved to include the provision of emergency services to those affected by the 1967 occupation, including the millions of refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the West Bank, Jerusalem- East and Gaza.

According to UNRWA, $1.6 billion is needed to fully fund vital services for millions of Palestinians across the Middle East. (Provided)

Saudi Arabia has also actively contributed to 108 aid projects in various sectors, from food security and camp coordination to education and health, donating more than $5 billion over the past few years. past 20 years through the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center.

“Saudi Arabia has been one of the main supporters of the Palestinian people in the Palestinian territory and in the region. It is important that countries that have pledged funds commit to their agreed commitments,” Naif bin Bandar Al-Sudairi, the Saudi ambassador to Jordan, told Arab News.

“They see the Kingdom as a nation that keeps its commitments and leads humanitarian efforts. This could add indirect pressure on other countries to follow suit.

Saudi Arabia’s reported annual commitment to UNRWA is $2 million, meaning it has given 25 times that amount this year alone. Al-Sudairy says this demonstrates the Kingdom’s unwavering support for the Palestinian people.

UNRWA suffered a major funding setback in 2018 when the US government suspended its contributions, which were not reinstated until 2021. This loss of support is due to declining international interest in the plight of Palestinians.

“The financial challenges we face today began about 10 years ago,” UNRWA Commissioner General Philippe Lazzarini told Arab News.

“It happened at a time when the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was starting to be deprioritized, a new political dynamic was emerging (appearing), at a time when the attention of this part of the world was starting to diminish and UNRWA was becoming a collateral of this environment.

“We continued to provide services, education, primary health care, social protection to millions of Palestinian refugees as planned under the agency’s mandate.”

However, due to a host of new challenges, including price inflation, “resources have stubbornly stagnated,” he added.

Naif bin Bandar Al-Sudairi, Saudi ambassador to Jordan, said the Kingdom was a longtime supporter of the Palestinians. (AN Photo/Abdulrahman Shalhoub)

Since June 1967, an elaborate system of laws and regulations has affected every aspect of Palestinian life in the occupied territories, from the fragmentation of the economy to the destruction of homes, agriculture and cultural life.

Partly due to the loss of foreign aid and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of Palestinians living below the poverty line has soared, reaching 53% in Gaza, according to the World Bank.

Its May 2022 economic monitoring report indicates that during the pandemic, incomes fell in 72% of households in the West Bank and 57% of households in Gaza. Meanwhile, food insecurity has risen from 9% to 23% in the West Bank and from 50% to 53% in Gaza.

“Deteriorating economic and political conditions have fostered a deep fiscal crisis characterized by a sharp decline in donor assistance, a large financing gap, and the accumulation of potentially destabilizing domestic debt and arrears to the private sector. and the pension fund,” the UN Conference said. on trade and development said in a report in August.

According to UNRWA, $1.6 billion is needed to fully fund vital services for millions of Palestinians across the Middle East. Of this amount, $806 million is needed to support education, health, relief, social services and protection, and $406 million for emergency assistance in Gaza, the West Bank and Jerusalem- East.

Saudi Arabia has donated more than $5 billion over the past 20 years through the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center. (SPA)

An additional $365 million is needed for the emergency humanitarian response in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, where Palestinian refugees are affected by overlapping crises, including the protracted conflict in Syria, COVID-19, and the political and economic crises facing Lebanon.

Lazzarini says the unpredictability of donations is a significant obstacle, due to a continued lack of interest from the international community.

“All of this is taking place at a time when there is very little political horizon,” Lazzarini said. “I am convinced that the lack of funding can easily be overcome if there is the right political attention and the right political will.

“Sometimes funding can be reduced due to political considerations; Sometimes we receive less from certain donors who no longer give priority to this region, or because they have had to reduce their budget abroad, and this affects us here in the region.

Donations from the Kingdom will contribute to UNRWA’s global mobilization to address an unprecedented deficit this year.

With Saudi Arabia’s support to other partners, the agency was able to open all 711 schools for 530,000 children in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria on time.

Meanwhile, 140 health centers remained open, providing crucial primary healthcare to 3 million patients.

“I believe that the Kingdom’s position towards the Palestinian humanitarian cause goes hand in hand with its political position,” Saudi Ambassador to Jordan Al-Sudairi said.

UNRWA’s initial mandate was to provide assistance and protection to Palestinian refugees, pending a just and lasting solution to their plight.

“The Kingdom is the only nation in the world to have proposed two peace initiatives based on UN Resolution 242, the first in Fez presented by King Fahad and the second by Crown Prince Abdullah in Beirut.”

Last month, during his address to the United Nations General Assembly, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan bin Abdullah confirmed that the Kingdom considers the Palestinian cause a priority and will continue to do so.

Support for Palestine has been among its main foreign policies since the establishment of the Kingdom, he added.

Prince Faisal told the UN body: “Security and stability in the Middle East require a just and comprehensive solution to the Palestinian question.”