AMMAN: The UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, launched a global fundraising campaign on Wednesday after the US slashed its financial contribution by more than half.
“Let us draw our strength from the Palestine refugees who teach us every day that giving up is not an option. UNRWA will not give up either,” the agency’s Commissioner-General Pierre Krahenbuhl said.
“At stake is the dignity and human security of millions of Palestine refugees, in need of emergency food assistance and other support in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and the West Bank and Gaza Strip.”
The US is the agency’s largest single donor. The State Department said on Tuesday it would reduce its contribution from $125 million to $60 million until UNRWA carried out unspecified reforms.
The decision targets the most vulnerable segment of the Palestinian people and will deprive refugees of the right to education, health, shelter and a dignified life, Palestinian Liberation Organization executive committee member Hanan Ashrawi said. “It is creating conditions that will generate further instability throughout the region.”
The cut in aid is meant to pressure the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah, but Palestinian refugees in Jordan will bear the brunt. UNRWA has let go 100 day workers out of 280 in Jordan, said Tariq Khoury, MP for the city of Zarqa, which has a large Palestinian refugee population.
Cuts in UNRWA’s health and education services in Jordan would make an already difficult economic situation worse, he told Arab News. “If UNRWA withdraws its services the Jordanian government will be obliged to step in and provide them.”
There are 120,000 students in UNRWA schools in Jordan and Palestinian refugees make five million visits to UNRWA medical clinics.
Aaron David Miller, a former US Middle East peace envoy, said: “UNRWA has major problems. But why does it make sense to cut health and educational services to ordinary Palestinians who have nothing to do with the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas or the still non-existent peace process? Stunning incompetence.”
Helen Clark, former prime minister of New Zealand and former UN aid administrator, said: “It’s a sad day for Palestinian refugees. People’s needs should not be sacrificed over political differences.”
UNRWA was established by the UN General Assembly in 1949 after hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were driven from their homes in the 1948 war that followed the creation of Israel. It helps five million registered Palestinian refugees.