NGOs, officials slam U.S. threats to cut UNRWA funding
BEIRUT: The U.S. administration’s threats to cut funding to UNRWA, the United Nations agency for Palestine refugees, will have disastrous consequences if implemented, NGOs and government officials have warned.
The Norwegian Refugee Council – a non-governmental organization that works closely with UNRWA in occupied Palestine and across the region – criticized the position taken by the U.S. administration and warned that the move would have a dire effect on Palestinians.
“Threatening to cut aid for political purposes to millions of civilians who need it is what we’ve come to expect of undemocratic regimes, not the world’s biggest humanitarian donor,” NRC Secretary-General Jan Egeland said in a statement.
“Cutting funds to UNRWA will achieve nothing except push millions of Palestinians further into poverty and despair.”
Reports that the U.S. administration had withheld $125 million in funds due to be transferred to UNRWA on Jan. 1 were denied by an unidentified State Department official quoted by Reuters who said no decision had been made yet.
“Based on extensive conversations with interlocutors in the U.S. administration, our understanding is that no decision has been made on the question of American funding to UNRWA,” Christopher Gunness, UNRWA’s director of advocacy and strategic communications, told The Daily Star Wednesday.
A senior State Department official in Washington said Monday that “contrary to reports that we have halted funding to UNRWA, the decision is under review,” AFP reported.
Karl Schembri, NRC’s regional media adviser, told The Daily Star Wednesday that cuts to UNRWA would also compromise the activities that NGOs carry out in collaboration with the U.N. agency.
“This [move] would be really wide-ranging in its impact if it goes through,” Schembri said.
“A lot of our services for Palestinians are in collaboration with UNRWA. … So we will do our best to continue our services, but the reality is that there isn’t another other aid agency who can take over UNRWA[’s work].”
Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, also condemned Trump’s move.
“It is vindictive for the U.S. government to deprive the U.N. of money to feed and educate Palestinian children in order to blackmail the Palestinian Authority into rejoining Trump administration-led peace negotiations,” the executive director said in a statement.
“If the U.S. government proceeds with this bullying tactic, other governments should step in to fill the gap so that programs aren’t forced to shut down.”
“UNRWA will continue to work tirelessly to ensure the full implementation of our mandate … endorsed by the General Assembly, which has described our role as indispensible.”
Sweden’s ambassador to the U.N., Olof Skoog, said Tuesday that he had raised his concerns with U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley.
“My concern is that as we talk about regional stability, withdrawing funding for UNRWA would be very negative,” Skoog told journalists at the U.N. headquarters, according to AFP.
Skoog said he had not ruled out raising the issue at the Security Council, which is scheduled to hold its regular meeting on the IsraeliPalestinian conflict on Jan. 25.
Sweden is among the top 10 donors to UNRWA along with Britain, Germany, the European Union, Saudi Arabia and the U.S. –
Cuts will “push millions of Palestinians further into poverty,” Egeland said.