Palestinian refugee agency tries to raise $500m after US slashes aid

Emergency appeal by Unrwa after Trump administration says it will withhold $300m

Palestinian schoolgirls attend a class at a school belonging to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (Unrwa)  in Gaza City on Monday. Photograph: Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty Images

Palestinian schoolgirls attend a class at a school belonging to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (Unrwa) in Gaza City on Monday. Photograph: Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty Images

 

The UN agency caring for Palestinian refugees has launched a $500 million emergency appeal following the Trump administration’s decision to dramatically cut the US contribution.

Unless Unwra succeeds, 5.2 million Palestinian refugees living in the occupied Palestinian territories, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria will lose health and educational services and the agency will struggle to feed 1.7 million dependent on rations.

Unrwa commissioner general Pierre Krahenbuhl said he acted after he had been “informed that the contribution to our core budget would be this year $60 million [€49 million] when the United States contributed in total to Unrwa last year $360 million”.

Last year’s US contribution made up one-third of the Unrwa budget.

Although US officials claimed the administration wants Unrwa to make internal reforms before considering further contributions, Mr Krahenbuhl said he had received no specific reform demands. “I’m absolutely clear in my mind that the decision [on funding] was not related to our performance,” he said.

Since the US has drastically reduced its commitment, Mr Krahenbuhl must cover the $300 million expected to be withheld, plus $150 million in debt, and secure an extra $50 million in case of emergency in the crisis-ridden region. Mr Krahenbuhl said Unrwa cannot stop providing sustenance and services “from one day to the other”.

He is asking all donors to increase contributions. Ireland’s contribution has been $5.5 million annually. To meet urgent needs, Sweden, Belgium and the Netherlands have fast-tracked funding totalling $97.5 million.

Food aid appeal

Unrwa had expected a first US instalment of $125 million this month – $80 million in budgetary support and $45 million for an emergency appeal for food aid. The US reneged on the emergency aid and cut budgetary support.

Unrwa spokesman Chris Gunness told The Irish Times, “We regularly ask the US to make financial commitments at the end of each year that enable us to initiate the procurement process for essential relief and humanitarian assistance, including food, which requires advance purchasing agreements with suppliers.

“Upon receipt of the pledge, we initiated that procurement process at the end of 2017 for the distribution of food and assistance to the most vulnerable refugees in Gaza and the West Bank.”

The aid cut followed Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas’s condemnation of Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and his refusal to engage in US-brokered negotiations, citing what he called pro-Israel “bias”.

In early January Mr Trump tweeted that the US pays Palestinians “HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect”. He asked “why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?”