UNRWA Commissioner General Freezes Controversial ‘Unpaid Leave’

JERUSALEM, August 24, 2015 (WAFA) – UNRWA’s Commissioner General, Pierre Krähenbühl, cancelled a decision to put a number of UNRWA personnel on unpaid leave up to one year, said an UNRWA press release.

UNRWA spokesman Sami Mshasha said the previous decision, which was taken a few weeks earlier, came in light of the severe financial hardship that UNRWA has been going through, and the purpose of such decision was to prevent the termination of UNRWA staff’s work contracts at times of financial crisis.

In response, tens of UNRWA employees and students took to the streets in the last few weeks to protest the possible cuts to refugees’ services and the delay which would “undermine students’ right to education”. However, over a million Palestinian students, including some half a million studying in UNRWA-run schools, Monday began the school year 2015 – 2016.

Krähenbühl, in a statement published on UNRWA’s website last Wednesday, said the Agency recently took significant internal measures to reduce costs and engaged partners and host countries to overcome the major funding crisis.

He noted that $78.9 million out of an overall deficit of $101 million was so far secured through funding from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.

“While some significant work therefore remains, I consider that we have achieved our first objective and can open the schools,” Krähenbühl added.

Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and UAE contributions covered almost half of the 2015 deficit, while the USA, Switzerland, the UK, Norway, Sweden and the Slovak Republic helped address the funding shortfall with their donations.

Krähenbühl stressed that UNRWA is currently in pursuit of the second crucial objective which is to place UNRWA on a more stable financial footing for the future.

He explained, “UNRWA will work actively in the coming months to take further internal measures to that effect. We will also actively engage and seek the support of hosts, member states and other donors for our internal measures and to achieve the goal of better protecting our human development activities, in particular our health and education services.”

On July 26, UNRWA warned that unless the deficit of $101 million was fully funded before the school year is due to start, it would mull delaying the start of the school year in some 700 schools for half a million students across the Middle East.

Prior to that, UNRWA also declared it was forced to suspend its cash assistance program in Gaza to tens of thousands of people for repairs to damaged and destroyed homes and for rental subsidies to the homeless, due to its financial hardship.

According to UN officials, UNRWA has in recent months seen its severest financial crisis in over 65 years due to a widening gap between the needs of the agency and support from donor nations.