UNRWA chief slams 'political dimension' of US aid cut to Palestinians

AFP , Tuesday 30 Jan 2018

Palestinian protesters demonstrate in Gaza City
Palestinian protesters demonstrate in Gaza City on January 29, 2018 against the US move to freeze funding for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees. (AFP PHOTO)

The head of the UN agency for Palestinians criticised Tuesday the "political dimension" of a US decision to dramatically slash funding to the organisation, warning this could lead to rising instability.

Pierre Krahenbuhl said the US decision to reduce funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) this year by $300 million "has a political dimension that I think should be avoided."

He made these comments while issuing an emergency appeal for more than $800 million in funds to provide additional assistance to Palestinian refugees in Syria, Gaza and the West Bank.

The United States this month has put on hold two planned payments of more than $100 million to UNRWA, and has informed the body that it will be contributing just $60 million to this year's budget, down from $360 million last year.

Krahenbuhl said the cuts were clearly linked to the Palestinian leadership's decision to freeze ties with the administration of President Donald Trump after his controversial recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, adding that Washington could no longer be the main mediator in talks with Israel.

The Palestinians see east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

"It has always been and it will always be for every humanitarian agency ... an imperative to preserve and ensure that humanitarian funding is preserved from politicisation," Krahenbuhl said.

"It is very important that humanitarian funding not be caught up in political considerations," he said.

"The whole point of supporting communities in very difficult conflict environments is that one doesn't have to agree with anyone's leadership. One is concerned with the well-being ... of communities."

He underlined that UNRWA provides essential services to some 5.3 million Palestinian refugees across Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank and the Gaza Strip, including running 700 schools and 140 health clinics.

"It is not the first time in our long and proud history that we face challenges of this nature, but it is in financial terms the most serious financial crisis ever in the history of this agency," he said.

Cuts to these and other services for populations often already in dire need and lacking any possibilities to move or to improve their situations could be a recipe for disaster, he warned.

"There is no doubt that if no solution is found to the shortfall... It is clear that if that is not bridged, then there will be increased instability," Krahenbuhl said.

"Cutting and reducing funding to UNRWA is not good for regional stability."

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