Egypt foreign minister Shoukry calls for strategy to protect UNRWA from financial crisis

Ahram Online , Tuesday 11 Sep 2018

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry shakes hands with his Jordanian counterpart Ayman Safadi before the meeting was held in Arab League headquarter in Cairo. 11 September 2018 (Photo: Egypt's Foreign Ministry Official Facebook page)

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry called for developing a "sustainable" strategy to prevent a recurring shortfall in funds at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) during an Arab League meeting in Cairo on Tuesday to drum up support for the agency following a recent financial crisis caused by a US aid cutoff.

Shoukry cautioned that undermining the agency would "fuel extremism and instability in the region," according to state news agency MENA. He applauded the efforts by Arab countries to support the agency, but said "a short-term and long-term action plan to maintain [UNRWA's] role" is needed.

Last month, Washington said it was cutting all US funding to the UNRWA, saying its business model and fiscal practices showed an "irredeemably flawed operation." The decision came a week after the State Department said it would slash $200 million in aid to economic programs in the West Bank and Gaza and redirect the funds elsewhere.

The 68-year-old agency said it currently provides services to around five million Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Gaza and the West Bank.

A foreign ministry statement on Tuesday said Shoukry expressed "serious concerns over the recent developments and the subsequent risks related to the situation of Palestinian refugees as a result of their severe human and financial suffering."

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar have already pledged $50 million each to the UNRWA to help cover the shortage, UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl said on Monday.

He added that the agency would seek additional contributions from other Gulf countries and European partners to overcome this year's $200 million shortfall.

During Tuesday's meeting, called on by Jordan, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Maliki described US President Donald Trump’s decision to stop funding to the agency as an "attack [on] the rights of the Palestinian people and international law.”

Jordan Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said at the Arab League that his country would hold a meeting "in cooperation with Sweden, Germany, Japan, the European Union and Turkey" on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly later this month "in an effort to get more aid".

Shoukry also held bilateral talks with his Jordanian and Iraqi counterparts on the sidelines of the Arab League meeting on Tuesday, where the officials discussed mutual cooperation and regional issues.

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