Episode
September 5, 2018

UNRWA in crisis: what does the future hold for Palestinian refugees?

UN agency concerned that it will not be able to deliver essential programmes to those in need following US funding cuts.
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The UN body providing relief and development aid to millions of Palestine refugees is facing the largest crisis in its history, following the Trump administration’s decision to stop contributing to its budget.

The UN Relief and Works Agency has for nearly seven decades supported about five million registered refugees and their descendants. But on August 31 the US State Department announced that the US would stop all donations to the agency, calling it an “irredeemably flawed operation” that perpetuated a “endlessly crisis-driven service provision model.” UNRWA’s commissioner-general Pierre Krähenbühl has called the US rationale for the cuts “disingenuous at best” and a “politicisation of humanitarian aid”. The full cancellation of all US funding to UNRWA comes seven months after it first started withholding funds, and just days after the State Department announced the US would cut $200m in direct development assistance to Palestinians through USAid.

UNRWA has long provided services to Palestine refugees in the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. Its operations provide improvements to refugee camp infrastructure, social services and healthcare, but education is by far its biggest outlay. About 54% of UNRWA’s 2016 programme budget was dedicated to tuition and training schemes - essential to the development of hundreds of thousands of young people registered as Palestine refugees. About 66% of Gazans and 57% of people in the West Bank are under 25.

The US's decision left UNRWA with a $446m shortfall, according to Krähenbühl. The agency receives little direct funding from the main UN budget and relies heavily on contributions from member states. The European Union, Japan, India, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have helped fill the deficit but with the US traditionally the largest donor, there are fears that the agency will still face a major shortfall.

With UNRWA facing one of the most intensely difficult moments in its history, what repercussions will be felt by Palestine refugees who rely on it? Join The Stream at 1930 GMT to find out.

Read more:
US ends aid to United Nations agency supporting Palestinian refugees - Washington Post
Is America wrong to cut aid to Palestinian refugees? - The Economist

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