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The New Arab

UNRWA schools to reopen as funding shortfall is met

Around 700 UNRWA schools can now open on time [AFP]

Date of publication: 20 August, 2015

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Half a million Palestinian children across the region can return to school on time this academic year after UNRWA announces a funding shortfall has been met.

Half a million Palestinian children will be able to return to school after the United Nations relief agency dealing with Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) announced a funding shortfall had been met.

Earlier this month UNRWA announced a US$100 million shortfall that compelled UN General Secretary, Ban Ki Moon, to make an urgent appeal for donors to help stem the deficit so that around 700 schools it supports in the region could open in time for the 2015-16 academic year.

Ban Ki-moon said he was "greatly relieved" and stressed that education is a right, "and that rights delayed are rights denied".

"This achievement cannot be underestimated at a time of rising extremism in one of the world's most unstable regions," said the head of the UN.

UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krahenbuhl said Palestinian students can now return to school according to plan in Palestine on 24 August, Jordan on 1 September, Lebanon on 7 September and Syria on 13 September.

     UNRWA has been drawing attention to the risks of neglecting Palestine refugees in an increasingly unstable region.

"Education is a fundamental right for children everywhere in the world, and it should never have come to the point where the UNRWA school year risked being delayed because of a funding shortfall for our core budget," Krahenbuhl said. "But it almost did."

He said that for months UNRWA had been drawing the international community's attention to the risks of neglecting the fate and plight of Palestine refugees in an increasingly unstable Middle East.

"Faced with the multiplicity of crises in the region, many were on the verge of purely and simply overlooking or forgetting the humiliation and despair endured for decades by Palestine refugees," he said.

Krahenbuhl expressed his "profound appreciation" to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE "whose remarkable combined contributions cover almost half of the 2015 deficit", and to the US, Switzerland, the UK, Norway, Sweden and Slovakia "who have together contributed generously to help address the funding shortfall".

Created in 1949, the agency was established to provide direct relief for the 652,000 Palestinians that fled or were expelled from their homes when the state of Israel was created.

A failure to resolve the refugee issue has led to repeated extensions of UNRWA's mandate.

The agency now supports 5 million Palestinians who were made refugees by the 1948 and 1967 wars and their descendants living in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

It provides education, healthcare and social services.

It is predominantly funded from voluntary contributions, mainly from donor states.

On 2 June, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the agency exists "because of political failure".

"In the absence of a just and lasting solution to the plight of Palestinian refugees UNRWA has become more than an agency," he said. "It is a lifeline."

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