NGOs, of­fi­cials slam U.S. threats to cut UNRWA fund­ing

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - LEBANON -

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.

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