The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) is planning to fire 250 workers in Palestinian territories after the United States plans to pull nearly $300 million in aid.
These are the first changes to the agency since the U.S. announced in January that it would only pledge $60 million for the year instead of the expected $125 million, a Wednesday Agence France-Presse report states.
So far, the agency has cut 154 employees working in the occupied West Bank as well as another 113 in the Gaza Strip, Chris Gunness, a UNRWA spokesman, said in a statement.
The UNRWA employs more than 20,000 people, most of them Palestinians, who provide services, such as education, medical care and humanitarian aid to nearly three million Palestinian refugees.
“The decisions are unfair and will adversely affect employees and their families,” Amal al-Batsh, deputy head of UNRWA’s staff union, told AFP.
President Donald Trump’s administration first weighed the possibility of funding cuts in January, aiming to cut donations in half. The White House also considered attaching conditions to future U.S. contributions, such as requiring Palestinians to revive negotiations with Israel before receiving more money. (RELATED: Trump Looks To Cut Aid For Palestinians By Half)
While the UNRWA and its employees are saying Washington’s funding cuts an “existential threat,” and calling the firings a “death certificate” for workers, the U.S. has been by far the largest donor to the agency in recent years.
The U.S. gave $364 million in 2017 out of a $1.12 billion budget, according to UNRWA’s official website.
The next largest donation from an individual state was Germany, who gave $76.5 million in 2017.
Even if the U.S. decided to give $60 million in 2017, it still would have ranked in the top four largest donations from single entities in 2017.
Trump tweeted in January that the U.S. receives no appreciation from Palestine shortly before the funding cuts were announced.
It’s not only Pakistan that we pay billions of dollars to for nothing, but also many other countries, and others. As an example, we pay the Palestinians HUNDRED OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect. They don’t even want to negotiate a long overdue…
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 2, 2018
The UNRWA’s website also states that the agency receives its funding “almost entirely by voluntary contributions from U.N. Member States. UNRWA also receives some funding from the Regular Budget of the United Nations.”
“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 who depend on the agency for their education,” Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, told CNN in January after the initial threats.
Protests erupted outside of UNRWA’s headquarters in Gaza City on Wednesday over the job cuts, and one man tried to set himself on fire before other protestors put out the flames, an AFP reporter on the scene described.
Israel’s ambassador to the U.N. Danny Danon praised the cuts in January. “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,” he said.
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