UN Palestinian refugee agency get new $118m boost, following US funding cuts

UN Palestinian refugee agency get new $118m boost, following US funding cuts
Several countries have pledged millions of dollars to support the UNRWA amid its funding crisis triggered by the cutting of US aid in August.
2 min read
27 September, 2018
The UNRWA provides aid to over three million Palestinian refugees [Anadolu]

The Palestinian UN refugee agency UNRWA on Thursday received pledges totalling $118 million from donor countries to help it overcome a crisis triggered by US funding cuts.

Among the biggest donors were Kuwait, the European Union, Germany, Ireland and Norway, UNRWA chief Pierre Kraehenbuehl told a news conference. France said it would contribute next year.

The US, which was by far the biggest contributor to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), announced in August that it would no longer fund the agency.

Kraehenbuehl said the new funds were "a significant step in the direction of overcoming UNRWA's greatest and gravest financial crisis ever", adding that the shortfall in the annual budget now stood at $68 million.

The administration of President Donald Trump has backed Israel in accusing UNRWA of perpetuating the Middle East conflict by maintaining the idea that millions of Palestinians are refugees with a right to return to homes in what is now Israel.

Created in 1949, the agency supplies aid to more than 3 million of the 5 million registered Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the Palestinian territories.

Jordan's Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi, who co-hosted the meeting on UNRWA's funding crisis on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session, said discussions were under way on ensuring long-term financing for the agency.

Safadi said the international community had a "firm, unwavering" commitment to keep UNRWA alive and ensure it continues to provide health and education services to Palestinian refugees.

The cuts to UNRWA funding have already caused job 
losses in Gaza and the West Bank [Anadolu]

The US decision earlier this year to terminate its UNRWA funding was welcomed by Israel but described as "cruel and irresponsible" by Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation's executive committee.

Trump's administration is seen as attempting to force a peace plan on the Palestinians that is believed to be vastly more favourable towards Israel.

Experts say Washington is using aid money to pressure Palestinians to accept the peace plan.

The crisis has already triggered cutbacks within the agency, with more than 250 jobs cut in Gaza and the West Bank so far, while hundreds of full-time roles have become part-time.

Aside from cutting funds to UNRWA, the Trump administration has also cut $200 million in bilateral aid to the Palestinians for projects in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

In his address to the General Assembly on Tuesday, Trump said the United States would only give foreign aid "to those who respect us and frankly are our friends."