US cuts funding for Palestinian refugees

On August 31, the Trump administration cut all aid to the UNWRA, a UN agency that provides support and assistance to Palestinian refugees.

“We pay the Palestinians hundreds of millions of dollars a year and get no appreciation or respect,” President Donald Trump said in a tweet.

This decision came after the U.S. cut funding to the UNWRA by half earlier this year, forcing the agency to scramble to cover its planned budget. Countries like Saudi Arabia, India and Turkey stepped up to cover much of the lost financial backing.

The UNWRA has been pinned as unsustainable and irredeemably flawed by the State Department. This criticism underpins the U.S. reasoning for cutting funding to the agency.

“Problems like this are no reason to end support to refugees,” said Political Science Professor George Guo. “Problems are gradually solved with work from all sides and this action doesn’t solve them.”

The State Department also blamed the UNWRA for failing to solve its issues while claiming that the U.S. remained aware of the issues that this decision would cause Palestinian refugees.

“We reject in the strongest possible terms the criticism that UNRWA’s schools, health centers, and emergency assistance programs are “irredeemably flawed.” said UNRWA Spokesman Chris Gunness in a series of tweets.

Other significant issues that the Trump administration has with the UNWRA is how the association determines who is a considered a Palestinian refugee. The U.S. claims that the 5 million refugees the UNWRA assists is superfluous and that the number has been inflated by including the refugees’ descendants. U.S. officials say they will not send support to the UNWRA unless the agency accurately counts the refugees.

Along with the Trump Administration, Israel has heavily criticized the UNWRA and backed the decision from the U.S. to cut funding. Adding to the U.S. criticism of how refugees are counted, Israel has been cracking down on the idea of the “Right of Return,” for Palestinian refugees and their descendants to return to the land they once owned and had to abandon during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.

“UNRWA is an organization that perpetuates the Palestinian refugee problem and the narrative of the right-of-return, as it were, in order to eliminate the State of Israel,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a cabinet meeting in January.

Germany and Jordan have come out and directly warned of significant negative results of the UNWRA losing funding and warned of even more drastic consequences if the agency shuts down.

“The loss of this organization could unleash an uncontrollable chain reaction,” said Foreign Minister of Germany Heiko Maas, according to Reuters. “We are currently preparing to provide an additional amount of significant funds.”

The UNWRA was founded after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War to provide relief for Palestinian refugees. Being funded almost entirely by UN members, the support of international powers is critical. Starting with 600,000 refugees and now up to approximately 5 million, UNWRA has been working toward providing refugees with supplies that are essential to their survival and education.

The education that the UNWRA provides Palestinian refugees is one of the agency’s main achievements, taking over 50 percent of the yearly budget to fund. Educational services are provided to over 500,000 refugee children.

“These very programs have a proven track record in creating one of the most successful human development processes and results in the Middle East,” Gunness said. “The international state community, our donors and host countries have consistently praised UNRWA for its achievements and standards.”

Whether the U.S. benefits from cutting these funds or not, the UNWRA is going to have to quickly find more countries and get existing donors to provide more to replace the U.S. in terms of the financial assistance that was provided, or face being downsized or even shut down.