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Aselia Orozova, Policy Brief, UNRWA

Prepared by Muslim
World League
Aselia Orozova
Statement of the issue
United Nations Relief and Work Agency for Palestine Refugees in
the Near East (shortly UNRWA) was established according to the
resolution №302 of the General Assembly in 1949 and started
operating in 1950 to support Palestinian refugees displaced in the
Middle East states in the aftermath of the Palestinian War (19471949).
Nowadays UNRWA is operating in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Gaza
Strip and West Bank.
It provides temporary shelter, constructs refugee camps, supplies
food and clothing, organizes work of schools and kindergartens
and maintains health facilities for 1,5 million Palestinian refugees in
58 camps.
The budget of UNRWA is formed differently from the budgets of
other UN agencies and bodies. Thus, UNRWA fund consists mainly
of voluntary contributions of the UN states (which make up 93% of
the total budget), private donations, contributions from NGOs and
UN sister agencies such as UNHCR, UNESCO, OCHA and UNICEF.
When did the crisis aggrevate?
impediment with the main stakeholder- the US
deciding to cease its regular donations to UNWRA
when Donald Trump came into office and reviewed
US policy in international organisations
In January 2018, US President Donald Trump announced a cut-off in
US aid to the Agency: out of the planned 125 million US dollars only
60 million US dollars were transferred to the Agency's account.
Consequently, in 2019 Washington made no financial contributions to
the organisation anymore.
To understand why US donations to UNRWA mattered so much, one
should have a glance at the diagram, which represents financial
assistance from different states.
Why states are starting to
decrease their contributions to
NGOs, UN Agencies, Private Donors
First, speaking about the USA,
when D. Trump came to power, his
administration took a course to
forge relationships and drift closer
to Israel, the evidence of which is
the decision of Washington to
recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli Switzerland
capital by moving there the US
embassy in May 2018.
Moreover, during the election
campaign Donald Trump already
advocated the idea of decreasing
US donations to international
organisations that seemed
unfavourable to American national
interests and the US withdrawal
from some IOs was a promise of the
election campaign. Thus, apart
from UNRWA, Washington left as
well UNESCO in 2017 and UNHRC in
Contributions to UNRWA budget from different
stakeholders (2015-2021)
Second, some stakeholders share the
opinion that UNRWA administrative
staff is corrupt with the budget being
regularly embezzled and
misappropriated. Thus, in 2019 the
Netherlands and Switzerland
suspended their financial aid amid the
allegations of mismanagement and
nepotism of UNRWA authorities based
on the report of UN investigation
conducted in the same year.
Third, more and more countries assume UNRWA only perpetuates the problem
of the Palestinian refugees with regional Arab countries showing no interest in
solving it. As shown in the diagram, Western countries serve as the main
financial bedrock of the organisation, whereas only 3 of Arab and Muslim
countries (Turkey, Qatar and Kuwait) are among top 20 main UNRWA donators.
This fact raises a question whether the Arab world is really interested in aiding
the Palestinian refugees and restoring Palestinian sovereign state. Besides,
Palestinian asylum-seekers are known as the most disenfranchised social
group in the Middle East with most of Arab countries denying granting the
Palestinians a refugee recognition, citizenship through naturalisation and the
labour right to help them improve their standard of living.
Based on the provided information and analysis, it
seems reasonable to start a reform of UNRWA
Administrative Body.
To start with, UNRWA should resort to outsourcing
services, which will carry out an in-depth analysis on the
weaknesses of the administration and will finally make
helpful suggestions. As it is clearly known that a
significant part of UNRWA budget covers the salary of
the clerical staff and senior managers, there should be
made a reduction of the personnel. But the reduced part
of the personnel must be directly substituted by the
representatives of the Palestinians elected through
The representation of the Palestinians
in the managerial staff is important for
two reasons: a) they better understand
the needs of their fellow citizens
displaced in the neighbouring Arabic
and Muslim states; b) the expenditures
for their salary will be relatively lower
than the costs that cover salaries of UN
high-qualified employees.
Moreover, to ensure that the Palestinian representatives conscientiously fulfil their
responsibilities and to make the work of the whole UNRWA administration
transparent, interested stakeholders (namely states that make financial
contributions to the Agency) must establish a joint Monitoring Commission,
which will supervise and control UNWRA funds allocations on a regular basis.
Advantages and Disadvantages of the
eradication of corruption
changes in administration will make UNRWA work more
inclusion of Palestinian representatives will bring a fresh look
on problems from the angle of Palestinian mentality.
the reform will envisage the establishment of an independent
Monitoring Commission consisted of representatives of the main
donators, which will control UNRWA budget allocations and
prevent from embezzlement.
the reform can be time-consuming, as the referendum or fair
elections of Palestinian representatives to UNRWA
Administrative Board might take time and cost money.
the establishment of an independent Monitoring Commission
can increase bureaucracy and cause additional expenditures
for supervisor’s salary.
Possible positive outcomes of the reform:
As being the part of the managerial staff, Palestinian representatives should
advocate the idea of attracting Arab or Muslim private companies to create jobs
for Palestinian refugees, which can be mutually beneficial for hosting states
(that will get taxes and develop their infrastructure instead of spending money
on keeping crowds of people in refugee camps) and for the migrants too (who
will be able to improve their life quality). The administrative reform will finally
impact the cost-effectiveness of UNRWA social and humanitarian programmes
for Palestinian refugees.