UN refugee schools face cash shortfall

Published July 19th, 2015 - 05:00 GMT

The financial difficulties of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency headlined a Thursday meeting between the education minister and the group’s new country director, as recently announced cutbacks could affect dozens of schools managed by the agency.

The education of Palestinians living in Lebanon and Palestinian refugees coming from Syria was the focus of talks between Education Minister Elias Bou Saab and Matthias Schmale, according to the state-run National News Agency.

UNRWA currently manages 68 schools in Lebanon following the Lebanese curriculum. The agency’s mandate covers the education, health and social affairs of Palestinian refugees in the country.

The agency is facing significant fiscal challenges and rising need, and has already been forced to halt its $100-a-month housing subsidy, due to a massive budget shortfall this month. The move threatens to leave more than 43,000 Palestinian refugee families from Syria homeless.

The agency also plans to suspend its monthly food stipend of $27 per person in the next couple of months.

But the impact of its budget shortfall will also be felt in its educational programs.

Schmale informed Bou Saab of the financial difficulties the agency is facing, and their implications regarding its ability to carrying out its mission in Lebanon.

Bou Saab in turn promised Schmale he would contact Prime Minister Tammam Salam in an attempt to resolve the issue with the UN The minister said he considered the cuts to be a “dangerous indicator regarding the international community’s commitment to Lebanon.”

A number of Palestinian refugees from Syria camped outside offices of the UN refugee agency across Lebanon Thursday to protest the cuts. The demonstrations were organized by the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine and other Palestinian organizations.

In Beirut, Palestinian refugees from Syria gathered outside UNRWA’s headquarters, declaring that “the current UN policy shall not destroy the Palestinian resistance, and will force donor countries to adopt reasonable strategies.” Some said they viewed the cuts as a threat to the Palestinian cause and their right of return to their homeland.

In south Lebanon, other protesters condemned UNRWA’s suspension of cash handouts, blaming the misery of their communities on the agency’s decision. Protesters in the Palestinian refugee camp of Ain al-Hilweh said that the UN relief agency “should accept the legal and ethical responsibility of securing a decent life for refugees.”

Similar scenes played out at the Bass camp in Tyre. Demonstrations were also held in front of UNRWA’s offices in Taalabaya in the Bekaa Valley, and in Nahr al-Bared and Bedawi in the north, where protesters stressed “Palestinian unity to face the current challenges,” urging the Lebanese government “to exert pressure on the UN agency to repeal this decision.”

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