School to start for 500,000 Palestinian refugees thanks to last-minute donations

Children in conflicts, Education in emergencies

Children set to return to school in Gaza Picture: UNRWA/Shareef Sarhan

The school year will start on time for 500,000 Palestinian refugee children after last-minute donations helped to fill a funding gap.

UNRWA, the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, said students would now return to school as planned in Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

There had been warnings that the school year in 685 UN-run schools would be delayed for months because the agency was short of $101 million to fund the 2015-16 academic year. Protests against the potential move were held by Palestinian refugees in the Gaza Strip and by staff at the agency’s headquarters in Amman.

But today UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krahenbuhl announced almost $80 million had come in and classrooms would reopen as planned in Palestine on August 24, in Jordan on September 1, in Lebanon on September 7 and in Syria on September 13.

Mr Krahenbul visits a school in the Gaza Strip when schools returned in 2014 Picture: UNRWA/Shareef Sarhan

He said: “Education is a fundamental right for children everywhere in the world and it should never have come to the point where the UNRWA school year risked being delayed because of a funding shortfall for our core budget. But it almost did.”

Mr Krahenbuhl had not been prepared to provide education to refugees at a discount price. He said: “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.”

On August 4, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on all donors to ensure adequate and sustainable financing for vital services was in place as soon as possible. But today Mr Krahenbuhl announced that several donor countries had stepped forward to provide a total of $78.9 million.

Mr Ban said he was “greatly relieved” by the news and added: “This achievement cannot be underestimated at a time of rising extremism in one of the world’s most unstable regions.”

Children in the West Bank attend an EU Summer Fun Camp Picture UNWRA/Alaa Ghosheh

The donations came from:

Saudi Arabia $19 million (confirmed on August 12),  Kuwait $15 million (August 17), United Arab Emirates $15 million (August 18),  United States of America $15 million (August 18), Switzerland $5.15 million (July 30), United Kingdom $4.69 million (August 12), Norway $2.44 million (August 6), Sweden $1.7 million (August 19), Slovak Republic $0.05 million (July 25), Al-Khair Foundation $0.72 million (July 20), Basque Government $0.11 million (July 30).

UNRWA is funded almost entirely by donations. Mr Krahenbuhl said it needed to be more stable financially in the long term.

He said for months the agency had been drawing attention to the risks of neglecting Palestinian refugee children “in an increasingly unstable Middle East”.

He added: “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.

“It is on the benches and behind the desks of UNRWA classrooms that millions of Palestine refugees, deprived for so long of a just and lasting solution, have built the capabilities and shaped the determination that enabled them to become actors of their own destinies.”

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