United States’ decision to cut funding for the UN Palestine refugee agency (UNRWA) is an evident politicization of humanitarian aid, according to the organization’s commissioner-general.
UNRWA, which says it provides services to more than five million Palestinian refugees in the occupied territories as well as Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, currently faces a budget deficit of $270m for the remainder of the year after the US government slashed its budget by $300m.
In an open letter to the agency’s staff, Pierre Krahenbul dismissed claims made by US State Department that it was an irredeemably flawed operation and prolonged the status of refugees.
Krahenbul went on to say that the decision taken by the US, which has been its most generous and consistent donor since 1974, will not have any bearing on UNRWA’s responsibility towards Palestine refugees or affect the energy and passion it carries out.
UNRWA was formed in 1949 following the forced displacement of 700,000 Palestinians by Zionist paramilitaries in the run-up to the establishment of the state of Israel.
Over the past year, more than 50 countries have contributed to the agency.
In recent years, the European Union has been the second largest contributor. It pledged more than $142m in 2017.
In a statement published on Saturday, the EU termed the US decision regrettable, one that will leave a substantial gap in the agency’s funding.
In the run-up to the UN General Assembly session later this month, EU foreign ministers, along with their international and regional partners, will discuss how to guarantee sustainable and effective aid to Palestinians, the statement added.
Following the US announcement, Germany announced it will increase funding for the UNRWA, its foreign minister said.
Heiko Maas said on Saturday that while Germany contributed $94m to UNRWA this year, it was prepared to increase its financial aid. He added:
Maas also urged the EU and member states to work towards a sustainable finance basis for the organization.
His statement was echoed by Ireland’s Deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney, who called the US decision heartless and dangerous.
On the same day, Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman al-Safadi said his country will rally donor support to ease UNRAW’s financial crisis.
Hanan Ashrawi, an executive committee member of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, denounced the US decision to end all funding to the agency as a cruel and irresponsible move targeting the most vulnerable segment of Palestinian society.
Jordan hosts more than two million registered Palestinian refugees. Safadi warned that shutting down UNRWA would create fertile grounds for further tensions.
Meanwhile, Israeli media reported on Sunday that funding by the Arab Gulf states to the refugee agency would be condition-based on a revised definition and number of Palestinian refugees.
According to Israeli Channel 2, the US will allow the Gulf states to fund UNRWA this year to ensure the continuation of the organization’s immediate activities.
Funding for next year, however, will be subject to agreeing with the US demand to count only 500,000 refugees out of the five million, the report said.
Source: Palestine Chronicle