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The Changing Faces of UNRWA

From the Global to the Local

Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh

This article explores the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees’ (UNRWA) responses to the US Government’s decision to dramatically cut its financial contributions to the Agency in 2018. Acknowledging the complexities of the fast-moving changes and dilemmas faced by UNRWA and Palestinian refugees, this article focuses specifically on the events that unfolded in the first six months of 2018. Through a multiscalar analysis, I start by situating UNRWA’s key responses as they have played out on the international stage through a high-profile fundraising campaign (#DignityIsPriceless). I then develop a close reading of three regional-level UNRWA circulars disseminated to UNRWA staff pertaining to the provision of maternal and neonatal health services, and to Palestinian UNRWA staff members’ employment and pension rights. Against the backdrop of the impact of UNRWA’s responses across the region, I subsequently examine how these operational changes have been experienced and conceptualised by Palestinians living in refugee camps in Lebanon, noting that those experiences must be analysed within the broader context of protracted displacement, enforced immobility and overlapping displacement.