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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 September 2018

British government raises funding of UNRWA following US aid cancellation

Minister for the Middle East Alistair Burt said UK aid would help to provide essential humanitarian services

Palestinians protesters gather across the watchtower of the separation wall during a protest against United State decision on UNRWA funding. EPA/HAITHAM IMAD
Palestinians protesters gather across the watchtower of the separation wall during a protest against United State decision on UNRWA funding. EPA/HAITHAM IMAD

In a perceived rebuke to its American ally, the British government announced on Tuesday that it would increase financial support to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) by £7 million (Dh33m) to help ensure that Palestinians will continue to be able to access vital healthcare and education services.

Addressing the House of Commons, the minister for the Middle East, Alistair Burt, said: “UK aid support through UNRWA provides an essential humanitarian and stabilising force in the Middle East, educating hundreds of thousands of children every year and providing health care to some of the most vulnerable Palestinian refugees. Today’s UK aid package reaffirms our unequivocal support to this UN agency and the important work it does.

“We are deeply concerned about the devastating impact a shortage of funds for UNRWA could cause on those that rely on its services, as well as the consequences this could have for regional stability.”

The commitment comes after the US said on Friday that it would end funding for UNWRA. It also cancelled more than $200m (Dh734.6m) in bilateral aid to Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.

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Mr Burt said that “whilst today’s UK aid announcement will help to meet immediate needs, we are clear that the UK cannot act alone. For the sake of millions of Palestinians, the international community and other donors must follow our lead and step up support to UNRWA to ensure its vital services are not interrupted”.

The UN agency, which is now facing severe financial pressure at a time of unprecedented demand following Washington’s decision to cut aid, is a lifeline for millions of Palestinian refugees across the Middle East.

Funding from the UK Department for International Development will help to keep schools open for more than 500,000 children, and provide medical care for 3.5 million refugees.

Earlier this year, the UK brought forward financial assistance to UNWRA, providing an additional £10m to help address the unexpected shortfall in funding, which is particularly affecting Gaza.

The new commitment brings the total UK contribution to UNRWA’s Programme Budget to £45.5m in the financial year 2018/19, in addition to £38.5m which has already been given to ensure core programmes and services remain uninterrupted.

Meanwhile, the UK Foreign Secretary also said that the continuing imprisonment of dual Iranian-British national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was a gross injustice and that he hoped to meet Iranian counterparts at the United Nations in New York to further discuss the issue. Jeremy Hunt said that he was willing to travel to Tehran to help secure her release from jail.

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