The UN relief agency for Palestinians has launched an international crowdfunding campaign after the US President Donald Trump slashed the agency’s funding as a ‘punishment’ for Palestinians for rejecting US-led ‘peace process’.
The US decided to decrease its contribution to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) to $65 million in 2018, which is much less than $364 million in 2017, said agency spokesperson Sami Mshasha.
"This decision is shocking and affects 525,000 students and millions of Palestinian refugees," Mshasha said, adding that "it could also affect regional stability", Xinhua news agency reported.
The spokesperson also said the UNRWA services will not stop despite the US aid cut, saying "we will do our best to maintain the vital services".
"We are already in huge deficit and we've contacted all donors from the international community to help us provide services and protection for the refugees," he said.
Yazan Muhammad Sabri, an 18-year-old Palestinian refugee in Dheisheh camp in the occupied West Bank town of Bethlehem, told Al Jazeera last week that "if the wakala [UNRWA] goes away, there will be no education, no healthcare, no sanitation".
"There will be nothing - everything will disappear."
The US decision to cut aid drew condemnation from Palestinians, but praise from Israel. The UN officials expressed deep concern and refugee groups worried about the humanitarian impact, particularly the potential for further destabilisation of a region already reeling from conflict in Syria.
The aid cut comes after Trump had threatened to slash aid to countries who voted against US in UN against Washington’s decision to unilaterally recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital. Earlier, Trump complained that Washington receives "no appreciation or respect" in return for its aid.
"The move will have devastating consequences for vulnerable Palestinian refugees across the Middle East, including hundreds of thousands of refugee children in the West Bank and Gaza, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria," said Jan Egeland, former Norwegian Foreign Minister and former UN undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was "very concerned" about the impact on the region.
Nauert said the money was being withheld because the US would like to see reforms at UNRWA and added that Washington would also like to see other countries contribute more to the relief agency, which was founded in 1949 after the Arab-Israeli war, to deal specifically with Palestinian refugees.
PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi slammed the decision to withhold the funds, saying it targeted "the most vulnerable segment of the Palestinian people", adding that it "will generate further instability throughout the region".
Israel's Ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, praising the move said: "UNRWA has proven time and again to be an agency that misuses the humanitarian aid of the international community and instead supports anti-Israel propaganda, perpetuates the plight of Palestinian refugees and encourages hate."
(with inputs from IANS)