The UK Government has reduced aid to the UN agency that looks after Palestinian refugees by 49% over the last two years, contributing to the financial crisis that is now threatening its future.
Labour’s Shadow Middle East minister Wayne David quoted figures in the Commons showing the UK’s contribution to the UN’s Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) falling sharply from £57 million in 2019 to a projected figure of £29 million in 2021 – which he described as “disgraceful”.
“The Government can say what they like about supporting UNRWA and the peace process, and about ensuring that the infrastructure is in place and that the groundwork is done for successful negotiations, but they are actually undermining it through their ham-fisted policies.
“I respectfully ask the Government to reconsider whether those cuts are morally justified and make any kind of sense whatsoever.”
Foreign Office minister Vicky Ford pointed out that the UK contributed an additional £3.5 million to the emergency appeal in May 2021 towards the immediate needs of Palestinians in Gaza who were under attack by the Israeli Defence Force, but even with this unplanned extra the cut would be 24%.
UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini which launched an appeal for $1.5 billion in February to cover a huge funding shortfall, UNRWA schools educate 526,000 Palestinian children, 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 schools are working on a double-shift system and many health centres have been closed. The US aid package is still well short of restoring US funding to the 2017 level of $365 million (£266 m).
Sweden, with a population of 10 million and a contribution to UNRWA of $49.4 million last year seems likely to have overtaken the UK in its predicted contribution of $39.1 million this year.