Financing of UNRWA 2020-2030 from a Palestinian Refugee Perspective: Strengthening Refugee Rights under the Current Model of Member State Contributions

author: Mouin Rabbani, Jalal Husseini, Diana Buttu, Michael Dumper, Palestine Economic Policy Research Institute - MAS
year: 2022

When MAS first approached Professor Mick Dumper in 2020 to examine the issue of the financing of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), this was motivated by the threat posed to Palestine refugee rights by the hostile stance to the Agency of the then-USA Administration. Two years later that specific challenge may have receded, but the historic dilemma and recurrent crises faced by this longstanding international body have not. While UNRWA was established in 1949 to provide the refugees from Palestine some of their basic humanitarian rights, from food to work to health and education, over time its ability to serve its constituency has been increasingly constrained and their scope reduced by structural financing problems. 

Over 2021 and 2022, in consultation with a wide network of Palestine and international experts and officials, MAS has steadily pursued this vital issue. While keeping a focus on the future financing of UNRWA, our discussions and research over the two years have naturally navigated the political, legal, diplomatic and bureaucratic forces at play in this thorny subject. While pro-Israeli voices in donor countries have intensified attacks on the Agency’s mandate and mission, programmes and staff, providing regular media fodder that often obscures the noble and vital mission of UNRWA, our work sought to emphasize Palestinian agency in the ongoing discussion (mainly amongst donors themselves) about why, how, and how much to fund UNRWA.

The latest conclusions of this rolling research and dialogue project presented in this study further strengthen the contention that UNRWA is an  indispensable agency. As long as the plight of millions of Palestine refugees remains unresolved, or is neglected or struck from international agendas, the international community cannot shirk its responsibility to continue to recognise and provide for (at the very least) their essential humanitarian rights. This not only ensures basic services are maintained to the most disadvantaged among them living in camps and slums in Palestine and throughout the region, but also indeed keeps their rights alive in some concrete form.

Hence, the proactive approach of this project has been to not only project Palestinian voice, but to do so in a search for innovative and effective models for sustainable financing of the Agency, with open dialogue among stakeholders from the donor, refugee, UNRWA and academic communities. MAS thanks Professor Dumper and his co-authors, who each provided their thoughtful contributions to this study. We hope that this effort provides new
material for reflection and taking the discussion forward in the coming years. 

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