Palestinian refugees dismayed at US for halting relief funds

Reuters, JERUSALEM

Sun, Sep 02, 2018 - Page 1

Palestinian refugees yesterday reacted with dismay to a US decision to halt funding to a UN agency, saying that it would lead to more poverty, anger and instability in the Middle East.

The US announcement on Friday that it will no longer support the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) has deepened a cash crisis at the agency, and heightened tensions with the Palestinian leadership.

The 68-year-old UNRWA provides services to about 5 million Palestinian refugees across Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the West Bank and Gaza. Most are descendants of the about 700,000 Palestinians who were driven out of their homes or fled the fighting in the 1948 war that led to Israel’s creation.

“The situation is bad and it will become worse... People can hardly afford living these days and if they became unable to earn their living they will begin thinking of unlawful things,” said Nashat Abu El-Oun, a refugee and father of eight, in Gaza.

US Department of State spokeswoman Heather Nauert on Friday said that UNRWA’s business model and fiscal practices were an “irredeemably flawed operation” and that the agency’s “endlessly and exponentially expanding community of entitled beneficiaries is simply unsustainable.”

UNRWA rejected the criticisms, with spokesman Chris Gunness describing it as “a force for regional stability.”

Speaking in Jordan, where more than 2 million registered Palestinian refugees live, including 370,000 in 10 refugee camps, Gunness said: “It is a deeply regrettable decision ... some of the most disadvantaged, marginalized and vulnerable people on this planet are likely to suffer.”

UNRWA provides health clinics and schooling for 526,000 refugee children across Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and food assistance to 1.7 million people — 1 million of them in Gaza, Gunness said.