The Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA on Thursday received pledges of $118 million from donor countries to help it overcome a crisis triggered by US funding cuts, Jordan’s foreign minister said.
Germany, Sweden, the European Union, Turkey, and Japan were among the countries that came forward with extra funds for UNRWA during a meeting held on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, Ayman Safadi told a news conference.
UNRWA supports some 5 million registered Palestinian refugees and their descendants, and provides schooling for 526,000 children in the West Bank and Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan.
Earlier this year, the US ended its $350 million contribution to the agency for 2018, resulting in a $217 million budget shortfall. In its decision, the US called UNRWA a “deeply flawed” organization, arguing the agency serves to perpetuate Palestinian suffering by recognizing as refugees the descendants of Palestinians who fled their homes during Israel’s War of Independence from 1947 to 1949.
Israel also accuses UNRWA of helping to perpetuate the Palestinian narrative of Israel’s illegitimacy by, uniquely, granting refugee status to the descendants of refugees, even when they are born in other countries and have citizenship there, criteria that are not applied by the UN’s main refugee agency, UNHCR, which cares for all other refugees worldwide.
It also doesn’t resettle the Palestinian refugees in new host countries, and their population thus grows each year.
With the US traditionally the largest donor for the agency, the move has created a funding crisis, especially in the impoverished Gaza Strip where more than 200,000 Palestinians attend UN-run schools.
On Tuesday, Jordan’s King Abdullah II pleaded for urgent aid for the agency to curb the appeal of radicalism.
“We need to support full funding of UNRWA and other vital efforts to protect families, keep communities stable, and prepare young people for productive lives,” Abdullah said.
“It would be a terrible mistake to abandon youth to the forces of radicalism and despair. Such support is urgently needed to ensure UNRWA fulfills its role in accord with its UN mandate,” he said.