US withdrawal of UNRWA funding endangers the lives of Palestinian refugees

The US Government announced on Tuesday that it has halved its planned funding to the UN agency responsible for humanitarian support to Palestinian refugees, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). The US, UNRWA’s largest donor, has cut US$65m of its planned US$125m contribution to the agency’s operations across the Middle East.

Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) today warns that this decision poses a direct threat to Palestinian refugees’ access to healthcare, education and emergency food assistance.

More than five million Palestinian refugees are registered for UNRWA's educational, health and social services across the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. UNRWA educates 525,000 children in nearly 700 schools, and its doctors provide nine million medical appointments at nearly 150 primary health clinics every year.

UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl has said:

At stake is the dignity and human security of millions of Palestine refugees, in need of emergency food assistance and other support.”

This year marks 70 years of the displacement of Palestinian refugees during the Nakba, and the perpetual humanitarian crisis which resulted. In Gaza, where two-thirds of the population are refugees, 80% of people are dependent on some form of humanitarian aid and 40% live below the poverty line. In Lebanon, where MAP partners with UNRWA to provide lifesaving care such as heart and cancer operations, the poverty rate is even higher: 60% among Palestinian refugees from Lebanon and 90% among those double-displaced from the war in Syria.

With UNRWA already suffering a prolonged budgetary deficit, the US decision could mean the reduction or closure of vital services, including healthcare, with potentially disastrous effects for the health and living conditions of refugees. It threatens the human security of millions, including those in need of emergency food assistance. It also puts the education of 525,000 children at risk.

Under President Donald Trump, the US has undergone a radical shift in policy toward Israel and the Palestinians. Since President Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel at least 18 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli security forces. The decision regarding UNRWA funding demonstrates a dangerous politicisation of humanitarian aid which will only cause additional pain and suffering.

Aimee Shalan, MAP’s Chief Executive has stated:

 “The cuts in US government funding to UNRWA will undoubtedly place additional strain on already overstretched and under-resourced primary healthcare services and further obstruct patients’ access to specialist secondary and tertiary care. To deliberately increase the pain and suffering of refugees under any circumstances, let alone as a form of political point-scoring, is unconscionable.”

MAP is calling on the international community, not only the UK Government, to send a strong message of support to Palestinian refugees and UNRWA at this critical time, and ensure that its essential services do not stop.

Take action

The UK Government’s has voiced concern about the impact of the US’ decision to cut funding to UNRWA. Alistair Burt, Foreign and Commonwealth Minister, stated on Wednesday “[UNRWA] has a unique role in protecting and providing essential services for 5 million Palestinian refugees. We are deeply concerned about the impact of potential cuts in US funding on stability in the region, and about the continuity of UNRWA’s vital services. We will go on supporting them.”

Please tweet your MP and ask them to sign Early Day Motion 817, to call on the UK to do more in support of UNRWA. You can find your MP’s Twitter handle here. If you are not on Twitter please consider writing to your MP. You can find your MP’s email address here

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