US cuts to refugee agency a “death sentence”

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A Palestinian woman rides in a car after collecting aid provided by UNRWA in Gaza City on Wednesday. (photo: Mohammed Abed / AFP / Getty Images)

Trump’s decision to cut aid to Palestinian refugees threatens the well-being of millions.

By Hazem Balousha and Ruth Eglash | The Washington Post | Jan 17, 2018


“We are extremely worried. We support 1 million people with food. . . . [We] just hope we have enough time to persuade them to change their mind and/or to find another donor.”
— Matthias Schmale, UNRWA Gaza Director


The UN Relief and Works Agency, the main body providing aid to millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants across the Middle East, made an urgent appeal for international support Wednesday, one day after the State Department announced that it will slash its annual funding.

“After decades of generous support, dramatic reduction of US funding to @UNRWA results in most critical financial situation in history of Agency,” the agency’s commissioner general, Pierre Krähenbühl, wrote on Twitter. “I call on member states of the United Nations to take a stand & demonstrate to Palestine Refugees that their rights & future matter.”

In a more detailed statement to the media, Krähenbühl said the U.S. contribution of $60 million, less than half of a planned $125 million installment, is “dramatically below past levels” and jeopardizes the “dignity and human security of millions of Palestine refugees, in need of emergency food assistance and other support.”

In the Nuseirat refugee camp in Gaza, 42-year-old Ahmed al-Assar said his family of eight has been receiving aid from UNRWA for almost 12 years.

“I work part time in construction, but that is not enough to cover all my expenses,” he said Wednesday. “Any reduction of aid would be a death sentence for refugees in Gaza. The work is almost nonexistent. There are not enough jobs. Those who work for the Palestinian Authority receive only a stipend, and Hamas employees get a quarter of their salary.”

Another camp resident, Zahia Mekdad, described the aid cut as “a purely political decision” that would hurt only ordinary people.

“There has already been a reduction of aid in recent years,” she said. “If it is reduced more, it is the women, children and young people who will suffer, not the politicians.”

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