#Unrwa – MEPs debate US decision to cut funding for UN agency for Palestinian refugees

| October 8, 2018
Photo by EU-ECHO on Flickr CC/BY/NC/ND The US decision to cut funding for Unrwa was debated by MEPs on 2 October. Photo by EU-ECHO on Flickr CC/BY/NC/ND 

The recent US decision to end all funding for Unrwa, the UN’s agency for Palestinian refugees, was widely condemned in a debate in Parliament last week.

Describing it as “irredeemably flawed”, the United States announced on 31 August it would end all funding for Unrwa, the UN agency for Palestine refugees. During the plenary debate, European Commissioner Johannes Hahn said: “Without Unrwa and the prospect of a two-state solution, there would just be chaos and violence for both the Israeli and Palestinian people.”

Established in 1949 to take care of Palestinians displaced by the Arab-Israeli war, Unrwa provides essential services for some five million Palestine refugees in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

The US decision was widely denounced by MEPs. GUE/NGL member and chair of Parliament’s Palestine delegation Neoklis Sylikiotis said: “There are five million refugees who are now suffering because of the US cuts. Eighty per cent of the people of Gaza depend entirely on Unrwa support.”

EPP member José Ignacio Salafranca Sánchez-Neyra said: “This is affecting more than 5.5 million men, women and children whom we can’t simply ignore.”

‘Strong, reliable and predictable’

During the plenary debate, Commissioner Hahn said the EU would continue to be “strong, reliable and predictable supporters of the agency”. He referred to the €40 million in additional EU funding for Unrwa announced at the UN general assembly on 27 September. The EU and its member states already provide almost half of the agency’s budget and the overall EU contribution amounts to some €1.2 billion over the past three years.

What is Unrwa? 
  • Following the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees was established by the UN General Assembly  
  • In the absence of a solution to the Palestine refugee problem, the General Assembly has repeatedly renewed Unrwa’s mandate 
  • When the agency began operations in 1950, it was responding to the needs of about 750,000 Palestine refugees. Today, some five million Palestine refugees are eligible for Unrwa services 
  • Every day about 500,000 children receive an education in 702 Unrwa schools 
  • Every year Unrwa medical staff handle more than nine million patient visits 

‘The one who buried the two-state solution’

ALDE MEP Hilde Vautmans asked whether Donald Trump would “go down in history as the one who buried the two-state solution” and said that “it is central for the future of the Palestinian state that we continue to support Unrwa”.

S&D member Elena Valenciano said that the US decision would end up creating more hatred and more disaffection: “It’s trying to make a two-state solution impossible and ensure that young Palestinians feel more and more abandoned.”

Rosa D’Amato (EFDD) said: “There has been European support to four generations of Palestinian refugees. In Unrwa’s governance there surely is room for improvement, but I think the US cuts are anything but productive in terms of peace in the Middle East.”

On behalf of the Greens/EFA, Margrete Auken spoke of Unrwa’s “fantastic work”. Referring to “Israel’s systematic challenging of international law”, the vice-chair of Parliament’s Palestine delegation asked: “What is the EU’s response? Some worried mumblings and a few extra euro.”

‘A major opportunity’

ECR member Bas Belder, vice-chair of Parliament’s Israel delegation, was of the view, however, that the US decision gives “the international community a major opportunity to change and introduce new rational criteria for Palestinian refugees”. He spoke of Unrwa’s “major deficits” and urged the EU to “support Washington in its wake-up call to the Palestinian leadership”.

German ENF MEP Marcus Pretzell said: “It’s an absolute scandal that the German government has offered to replace a large part of the US funding to Unrwa. We should be closing this institution and cancelling all of its resources.”

In a resolution adopted by MEPs on 8 February 2018, Parliament applauded Unrwa for its “extraordinary efforts” and expressed concern that any reduction or delays in funding could result in “damaging impacts on access to emergency food assistance for 1.7 million Palestine refugees and primary healthcare for three million, and on access to education for more than 500,000 Palestinian children”.

Click here for more information on Parliament’s role in the Middle East peace process.

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Category: A Frontpage, EU, European Parliament, Israel, Palestinian Authority (PA)