UK and US announce grants to UNRWA

Both the US and the UK have made important announcements on their funding of UNRWA , the United Nations agency responsible for Palestinian refugees.

President Biden’s secretary of state Antony Blinken confirmed on April 7 that the US would resume funding of UNRWA at the level of $150 million (£109m) in the current year as part of a $200 million (£145 m) package to reverse Trump’s total freeze on aid to the Palestinians.

Earlier on March 24 the UK Consul-General in Jerusalem, Philip Hall, announced that the UK would commit an extra £12.6 million to UNRWA to bring the UK’s total contribution to £63.6 million in the current financial year.

Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini said the new funding was “extremely welcome” but that UNRWA, which launched at appeal for $1.5 billion in February to cover a huge funding shortfall, was “not yet out of the woods”.

The US aid package is still well short of restoring US funding to the 2017 level of $365 million (£266 m) before Trump’s decision to cut funding down to zero in 2019.

The UK aid package of £63.6 million will come as a relief to those who feared that UK aid could be cut back dramatically as a combined effect of the cut in the overseas aid target from 0.7% to 0.5% of GNP and the Covid-related cut in GDP.

UNRWA schools educate 526,000 Palestinian children and their health centres serve 3.1 million refugees and they provide food rations for 250,000 of the poorest and most deprived refugees. Budget cuts have meant that over 400 UNRWA school are working on a double-shift system and many health centres have been closed. 

Comparisons can be difficult. UK total aid to Palestine has been as high as £90 million in past years, but on last years’ figures the UK are still among UNRWA’s top four donors along with Germany $170 m, the EU $132 m, UK $76 m and Sweden $65 m.
The resumption of US aid comes soon after an emergency $15 million grant from the US to help find the Covid-19 pandemic in vulnerable Palestinian communities in the West Bank and Gaza.  

It also comes with an assurance from White House officials that President Biden still wants to re-establish the goal of a negotiated two-state solution as a priority in U.S. policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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