Will UK cut aid to refugees?

Friday March 5th 2021

MPs are being warned of the danger of a massive cut in the UK contribution to UNRWA, the UN agency that supports Palestinian refugees, which could lead to the closure of schools and health centres and cuts in food aid for destitute families in Gaza.

With the UK aid budget tied to GNP, which has dropped 10% as a result of Covid, and the decision already taken to reduce the aid target from 0.7 to 0.5% of GNP – which implies a cut of 29% – there is a possibility of a cut of more than 35%.

The agency has not yet recovered from Trump’s decision to cut the US $365 million-a-year contribution to zero in 2019 and although President Biden has promised to reverse Trump’s aid cuts, no action is expected in time for the next annual budget.

As a response to Trump’s cut the UK announced an extra £5 million of emergency funding on top of its £60.5m contribution last year and other countries, including Germany, stepped in with one-off payments but that still left UNRWA with a massive shortfall.

Earlier this month the agency launched an appeal for $1.5 billion (£1.07 bn) to fund essential services.

UNRWA is already double-shifting 405 schools and teaching classes of 50+ to cut costs. It has pushed through internal economies cutting running costs to the bone. The effect if it has to close down would be horrific: 526,000 Palestinian children turfed out of school, 3.1 million Palestinians turned away from health centres, 250,000 of the poorest refugees deprived of the UNRWA food rations they depend on.

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