Guterres Calls on World to Aid UNRWA

Published April 7th, 2019 - 09:39 GMT
A child plays in front of a UNRWA-run school in Baqa'a camp, Jordan. (Khalil MAZRAAWI / AFP)
A child plays in front of a UNRWA-run school in Baqa'a camp, Jordan. (Khalil MAZRAAWI / AFP)

During a visit to Baqaa refugee camp on Saturday, UN Secretary General António Guterres appealed to the international community to stand with UNRWA and its mission by continuing to fund the services it provides in Jordan and the region.

While visiting one of the camp’s schools, the secretary general highlighted the importance of UNRWA’s “vital” services to Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

“These schools cannot close. They are a symbol of the rights of Palestinian people as a whole. It makes me emotional seeing these young children being taught not only math and science, but also the path to being an exemplary citizen, while the fear of their schools closing looms in the background,” he said during the visit’s press conference.

The secretary general also met with representatives, women and students of Baqaa camp, where nearly 120,000 registered Palestine refugees live, according to a UNRWA statement.

He said after his session with them: “The stories I heard today were very compelling, both in showing the strength and courage of Palestinian refugees and in conveying their concerns about their future. What remains with me are the words of hope and determination of men and women, young and old.”

UNRWA faced its biggest financial challenge in 2018 following a decision by the US to slash $300 million from its funding to the agency. The global campaign #DignityisPriceless, combined with internal saving measures, allowed the agency to eventually overcome a $446 million deficit in 2018, according to the statement.

UNRWA Commissioner General Pierre Krähenbühl said: “Nothing illustrates the success of a Palestine refugee like academic achievement. Maintaining the education in our schools is akin to giving these young men and women a passport that makes them global citizens. We will not compromise on that.”

Around 122,000 students in Jordan go to UNRWA schools, all of whom would be affected if the funding stops.

The secretary general said that “last year, I had a conversation with the UNRWA chief before the schools were set to open and he told me, ‘I do not know if we’ll have enough money to keep the schools open, should we do it?’ to which I replied open them, and the funding will then come”.

He urged the international community to continue contributing to the agency, and called on individuals to contribute as well. He said: “Citizens, companies [and] civil institutions, they can all make a difference. Giving is a universal thing. In Muslim countries, there is the zakat. Some countries and individuals give us their zakat money.”

Tamara Rifai, UNRWA’s chief spokesperson, told The Jordan Times that $1.2 billion is needed for this year’s budget, and fundraising for that amount is still ongoing.

“We do not know how much of that we still need, as the campaigns are still ongoing, but we do know that there needs to be a long-term solution, as we cannot stay in this emergency state for the years to come,” Rifai said.

The secretary general reiterated that the long-term solution sought after by the UN is “a two-state solution, with Jerusalem as the capital of both states”.

This article has been adapted from its original source.

© Copyright The Jordan Times. All rights reserved.

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