Recognizing the important role that the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, or UNRWA, plays in assisting Palestinian refugees and maintaining regional stability, the United States will continue to provide it with financial support in the coming year, beginning with an initial contribution of $55 million.
Of this contribution, $29 million will support UNRWA’s core services in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, the West Bank, and Gaza; $24 million will support UNRWA’s emergency programs in the West Bank and Gaza; and two million will support UNRWA’s ongoing relief assistance in Lebanon
UNRWA, established in 1948, is the only UN agency dedicated to aiding refugees from a specific region. Today UNRWA serves some 5 million registered Palestinian refugees living in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank and Gaza. UNRWA aids the poorest families by providing food and monetary assistance, and is the main healthcare provider for the Palestinian refugee population.
To help alleviate poverty, UNRWA invests in training and education. It operates one of the largest school systems in the Middle East, including vocational and technical schools, as well as teacher training colleges.
UNRWA also runs an enterprise-training program that educates participants in subjects such as book-keeping, taxation, tendering, computing and e-commerce. Further, the Agency helps support economic development in the refugee community by offering capital investment and working capital loans at commercial rates, including microfinance loans and small-scale enterprise loans.
Such programs are critically important to help the Palestinian refugee population become self-sufficient, which is why the United States is UNRWA’s largest bilateral donor. In 2011, we provided just under $250 million to the agency, including $146 million to its General Fund, $75 million to its West Bank and Gaza emergency programs, and $15 million to emergency programs in Lebanon. The final $10 million went toward the construction of five new schools in Gaza, which will serve an estimated 10,000 schoolchildren.
The United States encourages UNRWA to maintain the neutrality of its operations, expand its donor base, enhance its strategic communications, and maximize programmatic efficiencies in order to better serve refugees.