A protest organized by the Democratic Women of Palestine (Nada) erupted in Ain el-Hilweh camp over the slashing of UNRWA funds, allegedly caused by the lobbying of pro-Israeli groups.
The UNRWA’s silence over the cutting of funding and its inability to provide the refugees with aid for a while now triggered the protest.
Ain El-Hilweh camp in the south of Saida/Sidon is the largest Palestine refugee camp in Lebanon, counting 70,000 refugees, according to the UNRWA on which they have long relied for aids, until recently.
UNRWA was established in 1949 to provide direct relief and public works programs for the Palestinian refugees who were expelled from their country by the state of Israel in 1948.
In 2018, the agency lost its funding from the United States and has been struggling ever since. Before 2018, the US was their largest donor with $360 million, according to Reuters.
The United States and Israel had accused the agency of mismanaging funds and spreading anti-Israeli sentiments. In December 2019, however, U.S. Congress leaders agreed to give the agency $150 million in funding.
A few days ago, the interim head of UNRWA, Christian Saunders, accused pro-Israel groups of lobbying foreign parliaments to stop the donations.
The reason for lobbying against UNRWA funding, according to Saunders, is because Israel is seeking to replace UNRWA’s services in occupied East Jerusalem with those of its own.
As a result of the UNRWA’s financial struggles, the agency had to lay off 17 teachers from its schools in Lebanon on January 9th, according to Middle East Monitor.
The remaining teachers have been facing an increase in their workload. The number of classes that they have to teach was raised and the number of students per class was increased to 50.
They are also made to teach subjects that are not within their expertise, which has caused a dropping in education standards in the camps.
There was an inquiry made by the U.N. Office of Internal Oversight Services into allegations of misconduct, corruption, and misuse of funds. Major donors withheld funding as the investigation was underway.
However, after the investigation was complete and no evidence for the allegations surfaced, they resumed their funding.
Saunders feels that the UNRWA has enough funding for the first quarter of 2020, but he expressed that 2020 is going to be a harder year for the agency than any of the previous years.