UN agency for Palestinians launches corona appeal


Ramallah (Palestinian Territories) (AFP)

The United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) launched an emergency coronavirus appeal Friday, saying Palestinians across the Middle East were suffering a devastating socio-economic impact.

The agency appealed for $93.4 million for the next three months to provide food and cash assistance to the vulnerable.

While the number of Palestinian refugees infected with COVID-19 has so far been relatively low, they often work in informal sectors and are facing devastating economic repercussions from the crisis, UNRWA said.

In the Gaza Strip, where the majority of the two million population are refugees, unemployment could jump from 50 to 70 percent due to the crisis, said Matthias Schmale, UNRWA's head in the Palestinian territory.

UNRWA provides support for millions of Palestinian refugees across the Middle East, but primarily in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank and Gaza.

This includes schooling and medical services, with the organisation often operating as a de facto state in refugee camps.

Without the funds schools for millions of children may not be able to reopen, UNRWA officials said.

The United States, traditionally the largest individual donor to the organisation with around $300 million annually, cut all funding to the body in 2018 as relations with the Palestinian government broke down.

UNRWA is not affiliated with the government and accused Trump of politicising humanitarian aid.

Elizabeth Campbell, the agency's Washington director, told an online press conference they were launching the appeal "amidst the biggest financial crisis in our history".

In March, 59 US Congress members wrote to Trump's administration urging him to reinstate the funding in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.