UNRWA is still exerting all efforts to secure the necessary funds that would enable it to sustain its services, especially those related to education, giving the international community another week to respond to its appeals, according to an official.
While mid-August marked the end of a previous ultimatum given to donors to close the agency's $101 million budget gap or risk delaying the start of the scholastic year, UNRWA Commissioner General Pierre Krähenbühl decided Saturday to give donor countries another chance to address the relief organization's financial challenges, said UNRWA spokesperson in Amman Anwar Abu Sakieneh.
"The commissioner general wants to postpone any drastic decisions regarding schools to the last minute. He wants to maximize potentials for securing funds and mobilizing support for the agency," she told The Jordan Times on Saturday.
However, Abu Sakieneh did not deny the possibility of delaying the start of schools if donors do not step forward and lend a helping hand to UNRWA.
“No new funds have been received by the agency as of Saturday morning,” she said, noting that any decision regarding schools will be taken before the start of the academic year next week.
Around 120,000 students are enrolled in UNRWA-run schools in Jordan, which are struggling with a huge number of refugees.
In previous remarks, the government has said that Jordan “cannot bear more burdens,” with more than 130,000 Syrian students receiving education in public schools.
UNRWA has announced over the past few weeks that “tough” decisions would be taken in relation to its educational services and that unless the total amount of the budget gap is covered, it would not maintain its educational programs.
Education is deemed by the Palestinian refugees as the most essential service provided by the agency for more than half-a-million students.
“Education lies at the very heart of the identity and dignity of Palestinian refugees and of what UNRWA stands for. Our schools also provide a measure of stability in a very unstable region. Possible delays in opening the school year would also have grave implications for host governments,” Krähenbühl said previously.
Meanwhile, UNRWA teachers continue protesting over the possible disruption in the education services and the “dangerous implications of delaying the scholastic year on an entire generation.”
“We are shocked at the fact that students and teachers, and their future are the victim of the current financial crisis. We have become accustomed to the relief agency’s budget deficit for decades now. It has become like an incurable chronic disease,” said a statement by the UNRWA teachers council in Jordan.
The council reiterated its rejection of certain moves by UNRWA’s administration regarding them, such as the decision to change the unpaid leave regulations, granting the commissioner general the power to unilaterally put any employee on unpaid leave for one year.
“This is type of psychological pressure that will drive a teacher to resign or seek early retirement in order to empty schools of experienced educators,” according to the council.
UNRWA Spokesperson Sami Mshasha from Jerusalem noted that although the commissioner general is given such an authority through law, he has not taken any decision in this direction.
“We have conducted a legal study and found that the commissioner general has the right to give employees unpaid leaves. We hope we will not be using this power,” he told The Jordan Times.
UNRWA’s dilemma is being featured high in the meetings of the government and Parliament lately, with the government reiterating on several occasions that it is the responsibility of donor countries to handle such a crisis as well as help UNRWA overcome its financial difficulties.
By Laila Azzeh
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