The UK announced on Tuesday that it will step up its support to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), earmarking additional £7 million in the wake of the US decision to cut its funding for the Palestinian refugee agency.
The £7 million announcement brings the total UK contribution to UNRWA’s Program Budget to £45,5 million.
Established in 1949, the agency, was meant to be a temporary body to assist Palestinians fleeing their homes during the war surrounding Israel’s establishment. It has since endured as body with the sole purpose of catering to the needs of Palestinian refugees and the subsequent generations until a political solution to the conflict is reached.
“The UN agency, which is facing severe financial pressure at a time of unprecedented demand, is a lifeline for millions of Palestinian refugees across the Middle East. Today’s announcement of additional UK aid support from the Department for International Development aims to help UNRWA keep schools open for over 500,000 children, and provide medical care for 3.5 million refugees,” the statement said.
Last week, the US announced it would cut its funding for the UN body. In its statement announcing an end to the funding, the US State Department criticized the “expanding community of entitled beneficiaries” served by UNRWA, a reference to the agency’s intergenerational support for Palestinian refugees and their descendants.
The US has been supplying nearly 30 percent of the total $1.2 billion budget UNRWA which provides healthcare, education and social service to over 5 million Palestinians across the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.
US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, vowed on Tuesday that the US will continue to support the UN High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR), which he said in contrast to UNRWA, seeks to “end statelessness, not deploy it as a political weapon.”
“Without minimizing the importance of medical treatment and quality education for children — and we don’t, not even for a minute — we found that these expenditures were bringing the region no closer to peace or stability, not even by a millimeter,” Friedman said about the US funding for UNRWA.
“To spend hard-earned taxpayer dollars to fund stipends to terrorists and their families, to expend funds to perpetuate rather than mitigate refugee status, and to finance hate-filled textbooks — I ask you, how does that provide value to the United States or the region?” the ambassador added.
In contrast, the UK on Tuesday described the UN body in positive terms, calling it a stabilizing force in the region.
“UK aid support though UNRWA provides an essential humanitarian and stabilizing force in the Middle East, educating hundreds of thousands of children every year and providing healthcare to some of the most vulnerable Palestinian refugees,” the statement said.
“We are deeply concerned about the devastating impact a shortage of funds for UNRWA could cause on those that rely on it services, as well as the consequences this could have for regional stability,” it added, apparently referring to the US cut of funding.
Following the US announcement last week, the European Union urged the United States to reconsider “its regrettable decision” to halt funding.
“The regrettable decision of the US to no longer be part of this international and multilateral effort leaves a substantial gap,” a spokesperson for the EU’s diplomatic service said in a statement.
“And we hope that the US can reconsider their decision,” said the spokesperson.
“The US have always played, and will continue to play, an essential role in any effort to achieve peace in the Middle East,” the statement said.
“The EU will continue to engage with the US and its other regional and international partners to work towards that common goal.”
The 28-nation EU, the biggest collective contributor to UNWRA, said it will discuss with its international partners “how to ensure sustainable, continued and effective assistance to the Palestinians, including through UNRWA,” in the run up to the UN General Assembly this month.