In a statement on Wednesday, UNRWA Commissioner–General Pierre Krähenbühl declared the 2015/2016 UNRWA school year for Palestinian refugee pupils open. The school year had risked being delayed because of a funding shortfall in UNRWA’s budget. The total amount of contributions received to date against the deficit of US$ 101 million is US$ 78.9 million.
The Swiss born Commissioner-General, with a background in the International Red Cross, recalled that UNRWA has been drawing the attention of the international community to the risks of neglecting the fate and plight of Palestine refugees in an increasingly unstable Middle East.
“Education is a fundamental right for children everywhere in the world… The UNRWA education programme is one of the best and most cost-efficient in the region. We insisted on guaranteeing students their rights, the full quality school year, and education staff their full salaries. For this, we needed to close the funding gap.”
UNRWA, a United Nations agency established in 1949, provides today education to 500,000 pupils in 685 schools in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The school year in war-ridden Syria is supposed to open on 13 September.
The donations which enabled the opening of the school year, in order of size, come from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Switzerland, Norway, Sweden and Slovakia. EU has promised to mobilize additional means in a few weeks’ time. Noteworthy for its absence is Iran.
In a Joint Statement on EU support to UNRWA by HR/VP Federica Mogherini, EU Commissioner for Neighborhood policy and Enlargement negotiations, Johannes Hahn, and Commissioner for Humanitarian aid and crisis management, Christos Stylianides, the three Commissioners declare that “this positive and encouraging news has been made possible thanks to EU support, as the largest donor to UNRWA.”
EU overall funding in 2014 accounted for almost 40% of the total support to UNRWA.
According to their statement, the EU is now, as a priority, looking into ways to continue this significant funding to ensure that schools can carry on their activities.