Renewed US assistance won’t end UNRWA’s financial troubles

A Palestinian boy receives food supplies from a UNRWA warehouse in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. (File/AFP)
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Updated 06 June 2021

Renewed US assistance won’t end UNRWA’s financial troubles

  • Spokesman says pandemic has hit both the aid agency and the Palestinians it serves badly
  • COVID-19 pandemic has been hindering UNRWA’s ability to service the population in Gaza, Syria and Lebanon

AMMAN: The UN relief agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, has hailed the US administration’s resumption of aid as politically significant but said its longstanding financial crisis will continue during 2021, should no more donations come.
US President Joe Biden’s administration has announced the resumption of assistance to Palestinians, including to UNRWA, signaling a U-turn from the policies of President Donald Trump, who cut off assistance to the agency in 2018.
The State Department said it would provide a total of $235 million in assistance to projects in the West Bank and Gaza and to UNRWA, which provides aid and other vital services, including education and critical health care services to 5.7 million Palestinian refugees in the occupied territories, Gaza Strip, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.
As detailed by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in April, $150 million will be go to UNRWA, $75 million to economic and development assistance and $10 million to peace-building programs.
UNRWA Spokesperson Sami Mshasha has said that the US’s renewed assistance to UNRWA is extremely important but the money pledged is still below Washington’s regular donation to the relief agency.
“Despite the announcement of the Biden administration that they will resume the support to the agency, till the end of 2017 the US was our largest donor with a donation of $260 million, which represented at that time one fourth of our budget. This year they have announced that they will only be giving us $150 million to our regular services and regular budget, as well as our emergency operations,” Mshasha said in an interview with Arab News.
Mshasha explained that UNRWA has entered 2021 with a budget deficit exceeding $200 million, part of which was a carry-over of liabilities the agency had failed to pay in 2020. “As we speak, we are looking at a budget deficit exceeding $150 million and this is a serious one with (the agency’s) budget of 1.2 billion that covers our regular operations and emergency operations.
“The American resumption of aid is extremely important politically as well as financially and it will prompt other donors either to resume the levels of funding that (UNRWA) enjoyed from them in years before or to step up and increase their funding.”
The spokesperson said that some of UNRWA’s cash crisis has deepened with its longtime donors either cutting off or reducing their donations as a result of the COVID-19 crisis and its accompanying economic hardships. “So the additional money from the US is basically balanced out by the fact that two other major donors have indicated that they will not be able to meet their annual obligations as in past years even though their contributions remain important for us.”
Mshasha also said that Washington has announced additional assistance to UNRWA following the recent conflict in Gaza to help an early recovery and meet the needs of the coastal enclave’s population. “(It is) not clear how much but it will be an additional money.”
“All in all, the financial situation of the agency is very dire,” he said, explaining that UNRWA is still applying strict austerity measures on its 28,000 staff members to address the budget deficit, continue delivering its health, education, relief and social services to Palestinian refugees and meet its obligations to external services providers.
The spokesperson explained that UNRWA has launched an emergency appeal of $232 million to finance its operations in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) in 2020 and another appeal of $380 million for 2021. “In both these emergency portals, we (are) also envisioning a budget deficit – a huge one in that.”
COVID-19
Mshasha explained that the COVID-19 pandemic has been hindering UNRWA’s ability to service the population in Gaza, Syria and Lebanon and meet their increasing health and economic needs.  
In addition to health services and vaccination, he explained that the relief agency is struggling to repair the “economic devastation” of the population – most of them are daily-paid workers who ended up unemployed as a result of the pandemic. “Those people are to be added to the number of people who are under the poverty line and thus qualify for our food and in-kind assistance in Gaza, Syria and elsewhere.”
He also said that UNRWA is working with health agencies to vaccinate as many people as possible “but the inoculation rate is still very low” in besieged Gaza, war-hit Syria and crisis-hit Lebanon. “We are now concerned about a third wave (of COVID-19) after the recent conflict in Gaza and this is now on the top of all worries and challenges gripping the Strip.”
UNRWA has launched a $ 94.6 million COVID-19 appeal to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on Palestine refugees in the Middle East, with a special focus on health, cash assistance and education.
Mshasha explained that the agency is working with its strategic dialogue partners Sweden and Jordan which, he said, have been leading the efforts to solve UNRWA’s financial problems. They plan to organize an international conference to bring together the agency’s donors and supporters to discuss their long-term arrangements for UNRWA. The spokesperson expected to the international conference to take place in October.
“We need a predictable framework for our financial situation, one we can build on and plan upon and one that is multiyear.”


Protesters storm into parliament building in eastern Libya

Updated 02 July 2022

Protesters storm into parliament building in eastern Libya



BENGHAZI, Libya: Demonstrators broke into the building that houses the eastern Libya-based parliament in Tobruk on Friday, setting fire to parts of it amid protests over months of failed efforts to set the divided country on a path toward elections.
One witness, Taher Amaizig, said thousands joined a march to the parliament building calling for the current political powers to be dissolved and elections to be held. He said that as security guards tried to prevent people from entering, a protester was shot in the legs and other demonstrators then forced their way inside.
Videos circulated on social media showed protesters filing past burning piles. Friday is the first day of the weekend in Libya, meaning the building was likely empty when it was stormed. It was unclear what protesters intended by targeting the building
Other protests demanding elections were staged earlier in the day in several cities around Libya.
The unrest comes a day after representatives of Libya’s rival powers — one based in the east of the country and the other in the west — failed at UN-mediated talks in Geneva to reach agreement on a constitutional framework for national elections.
After more than a decade of war, the country is once again split between competing administrations, sliding backwards despite a year of tentative steps toward unity.
Oil-rich Libya has been wrecked by conflict since a NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011, leading to a rise in rival governments. The administration based in the east is backed by military commander Khalifa Haftar, and a UN-supported administration is based in the capital of Tripoli. Each side is supported by different militias and foreign powers.
Tobruk, the seat of Libya’s House of Representatives, has long been allied with Haftar. More recently the parliament there elected Fathy Basghagha as prime minister to a government that rivals the Tripoli-based administration. Bashagha, a powerful former interior minister, is now operating a separate administration out of the city of Sirte.
Libya’s plan for elections last Dec. 24 fell through after the interim administration based in Tripoli, headed by Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, failed to go ahead with the vote. The failure was a major blow to international efforts to end a decade of chaos in Libya.
The deteriorating economic situation was also a factor in Friday’s protests. In Tripoli, hundreds came out earlier in the day in opposition to the political crisis but also to rail against electricity shortages and rising prices for fuel and bread.


Libya’s Dbeibah says ‘election’ the only solution for crisis

Updated 02 July 2022

Libya’s Dbeibah says ‘election’ the only solution for crisis

The head of Libya’s Government of National Unity Abdulhamid Al-Dbeibah said he supports protesters in the country, agrees that all institutions should leave including the government, and there is no way to do that except through “election.”
Dbeibah’s comments come after protesters stormed the parliament building in the eastern city of Tobruk and staged the biggest demonstration for years in the capital Tripoli, in the west.


Executions in Iran soar in protest crackdown

Updated 02 July 2022

Executions in Iran soar in protest crackdown

  • Numbers double in six months

JEDDAH: The number of executions in Iran has more than doubled in the past six months in a new campaign to intimidate anti-regime protesters, rights groups said on Friday.
From Jan. 1 to June 30, 251 Iranians were hanged compared with 117 in the first half of last year. The surge in executions has coincided with a series of nationwide protests over Iran’s economic collapse and the soaring price of basic food staples such as bread.
“There is no doubt that spreading fear to counteract the growing popular anti-regime protests is the main goal of these executions,” said Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, founder of Iran Human Rights, an activist group in Norway.
“Only stronger international reactions and domestic campaigns against the executions can raise the political cost of these executions for the authorities and stop the increasing trend.”
Amiry-Moghaddam said 137 of the executions had been carried out since the latest wave of anti-regime protests in Iran began on May 7. Six women were among those executed, and eight prisoners were hanged at the Rajai Shahr Prison outside Tehran this week alone.
The group said its estimate of executions included only those published in official media or confirmed by at least two independent sources, so the real number was likely to be higher.
Activists also accuse Iran of executing a disproportionately high number of people from ethnic minorities, especially Baluch and Kurds. Iran Human Rights said it counted the executions of 67 prisoners from the Baluch minority, mainly Sunni Muslims who live in the southeast.
Amnesty International’s annual report on the death penalty in 2021 said that at least 19 percent of recorded executions in Iran were Baluch, although they make up only about 5 percent of the population.
There is also concern over the execution on June 20 of Firuz Musalou, a Kurd convicted on charges of membership of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party, which has waged an insurgency in Turkey. His sentence was carried out in secret without his family being informed.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed concern last month over the rise in executions, with Iran again executing drug offenders in high numbers and many people from ethnic minorities.
“The death penalty continues to be imposed on the basis of charges not amounting to ‘most serious crimes’ and in ways incompatible with fair trial standards,” said Nada Al-Nashif, the UN’s deputy high commissioner for human rights.


Thousands rally in Sudan day after 9 killed during protests

Updated 01 July 2022

Thousands rally in Sudan day after 9 killed during protests

  • The US and others in the international community condemned the violence in this East African nation
  • Sudanese military authorities have met the protests with a deadly crackdown, which has so far killed 113 people, including 18 children

CAIRO: Thousands took to the streets Friday in Sudan’s capital, a day after nine people were killed in demonstrations against the country’s ruling generals.
The United States and others in the international community condemned the violence in this East African nation, which has been rocked by near-weekly protests since an Oct. 25 coup upended its fragile transition to democracy.
The rallies on Thursdays were the largest seen in months. Sudanese military authorities have met the protests with a deadly crackdown, which has so far killed 113 people, including 18 children.
In and near Khartoum, large funeral marches took place for some of those killed the day before, while others gathered after Friday prayers at mosques in the country’s capital. Online, photographs of the dead were posted, in some cases in an effort to identify them.
The Sudan’s Doctors Committee, a medical group that monitors casualties from demonstrations, said security forces shot and killed nine people, including a child, in or near Khartoum during the rallies on Thursday. The demonstrations coincided with widespread Internet disruptions. Internet monitors and activists say the government has crippled communications to prevent gatherings and slow the spread of news on days when large protest turnout is expected.
Sudan’s leading pro-democracy groups — Forces for the Declaration of Freedom and Change and the Resistance Committees — had called for nationwide protest against the coup. The takeover upended the country’s short-lived transition to democracy following the 2019 ouster of longtime autocratic ruler Omar Al-Bashir.
Since the coup, the UN political mission in Sudan, the African Union, and the eight-nation east African regional Intergovernmental Authority in Development group have been trying to broker a way out of the political impasse. But talks have yielded no results so far.
In a joint statement tweeted Friday the three bodies expressed “disappointment over the continued use of excessive force by security forces and lack of accountability for such actions, despite repeated commitments by authorities.”
Thursday’s protests also fell on the third anniversary of a 2019 mass rally that forced the generals to sit down at the negotiating table with pro-democracy groups and eventually sign a power-sharing agreement that was expected to govern Sudan during a transitional period, until general elections were to be held. The coup last October scuttled this arrangement.
Western governments have repeatedly called on the generals to allow for peaceful protests, but have also angered the protest movement for sometimes engaging with the leading generals. Pro-democracy leaders call for the generals to leave power immediately.
“We are heartbroken at the tragic loss of life in yesterday’s protests,” the US Embassy in Sudan said in a statement Friday. “We urge all parties to resume negotiations and call on peaceful voices to rise above those who advocate for or commit violence.”
From Geneva, the UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said she was alarmed by Thursday’s killings, especially “after the police had announced they would not use lethal force to disperse the demonstrators.”
“In no case is force permissible to dissuade or intimidate protesters from exercising their rights to freedom of expression and of peaceful assembly, or to threaten them with harm for doing so,” she said.
Police said Friday an investigation was launched after a video circulated online, appearing to show security forces prodding and kicking a badly injured protester in the street the day before. According to pro-democracy groups, the protester later died. In a statement released on the website of the country’s state-run news agency, police said the video shows security personnel violating orders to not approach demonstrations with firearms. It said those involved would be held accountable.
The country’s interior ministry, which oversees the police, has continuously denied the use of live fire on protesters, despite evidence from activists and pro-democracy groups to the opposite.


Briton jailed for fatal accident at Cyprus resort

Updated 01 July 2022

Briton jailed for fatal accident at Cyprus resort

  • The Famagusta district court also revoked the tourist's driving licence for 18 months
  • The Briton was involved in the killing of Camilla-Christina Pamdahl

NICOSIA: A Cypriot court jailed a 25-year-old British tourist for one year on Friday after convicting him of the hit-and-run death of a Swedish mother in a holiday resort on the island.
The Famagusta district court also revoked the tourist’s driving license for 18 months but authorities did not release his name.
The Briton was involved in the killing of Camilla-Christina Pamdahl, 46, who was on holiday with her five-year-old daughter, on May 4.
She was the victim of a fatal hit-and-run accident at a pedestrian crossing in the popular resort of Ayia Napa.
The Briton was found guilty of causing death due to a reckless or dangerous act, driving a vehicle under the influence of drugs, abandoning the scene of an accident and failing to report it.
The 25-year-old was driving a rented beach buggy at the time of the accident and fled the scene on foot, leaving the rental vehicle behind.
Police said the driver was nearly five times over the legal alcohol limit of 9 mg with a test reading of 44 mg. He also tested positive for cannabis in his system when arrested.
Ayia Napa is known for attracting partying British tourists every summer.