A woman walks past the entrance to a UNRWA-run Palestinian children’s school in Bourj al-Barajneh camp, Beirut, January 17, 2018
Whether it is for childbirth, the education of his children or the collection of garbage in his Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon, Oum Mohamed depends on UNRWA. With the freezing of American funding for the organization, the situation looks „catastrophic“.
„People will suffer a lot, our only hope is UNRWA,“ laments the forty-year-old in his modest house in Bourj al-Chemali, a camp in southern Lebanon.
The UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) is facing its „worst financial crisis“ since its inception: Washington announced Tuesday the $ 65 million freeze on the planned 125 million voluntary contribution.
These cuts threaten the hundreds of UNRWA schools and hospitals that are crucial for the five million Palestinian refugees living in several Middle Eastern countries, most of them in extreme poverty.
A maze of narrow streets, where a strong smell of sewage floats, leads to the house of Oum Mohamed, in the heart of Bourj al-Chemali.
Two weeks ago, this mother was reimbursed by UNRWA half of the costs for medical tests.
„There is no money for treatment, for education,“ she says, as four of her children attend UNRWA schools.
– ‚Blow a little‘ –
More than 174,000 Palestinians live in Lebanon, according to a census of Lebanese authorities, a figure well below UNRWA’s estimates.
Palestinians march on a street in the Burj al-Barajneh refugee camp in Beirut on January 17, 2018.
„If schools close, children will end up on the street,“ said Freij, Oum Mohamed’s husband.
„The education with UNRWA allows me to breathe a little, I can not afford to send them to other schools,“ continues the forty-year-old with graying temples.
He makes his family live by selling furniture that he repairs. The eldest son dropped out of college to try his luck in Europe after a perilous sea voyage.
Over the years, the Bourj al-Chemali camp near the city of Tire has become a small town, with small buildings, stalls and schools to accommodate tens of thousands of refugees.
Despite financial difficulties that have already forced UNRWA to reduce its commitment, the assistance provided remains vital.
In Lebanon, some 160,000 people were able to seek treatment in 2017 in UNRWA clinics. And $ 14 million is disbursed each year to cover the cost of hospitalization of patients.
In the camps, the organization also manages waste collection and sometimes contributes to the renovation of homes.
„All these services are likely to be affected.No other agency can take over, the Lebanese state has its own difficulties and already manages a large number of refugees“ Syrians, deplores the head of UNRWA Lebanon, Claudio Cordone, in reference to the hundreds of thousands of Syrians who fled their country at war.
For the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), UNRWA budget cuts will force charities to increase their involvement.
– ‚It’s over, goodbye‘ –
The NRC recalls that UNRWA schools are already experiencing financial difficulties. „The system can not stand another shock,“ said Mike Bruce, spokesman for the NGO in Lebanon.
In a boys‘ school in Bourj al-Chemali, home to 650 schoolchildren going up to secondary school, children run around in the yard, around soccer cages without nets.
On the walls of the courtyard, alongside colored Smurfs, maps of their country of origin, which their family had to flee after the creation of the State of Israel in 1948. „Palestine, we will not forget you „, can we read.
For teachers, the time is serious.
Palestinian refugees wait at UNRWA-run medical center in Beirut’s Bourj al-Barajneh camp on January 17, 2018
„Am I going to work next month, or my salary?“ Wonders Imane Farhat, a 28-year-old English teacher who has been employed by UNRWA for six years.
„Now they can tell me it’s over, goodbye,“ says the young woman. „We are all very scared.“
The principal, Jihad al-Hanafi, does not exclude, in fact, in the months to come, to separate from half of his teachers. Or, in the long run, simply shut down your school.
„The child who does not go to school finds himself in the street, exposed to drugs, terrorist groups.We are facing a catastrophic situation,“ he says.