Letter on U.S. Funding Cuts to the UN Relief Agency for Palestinians

The leaders of 21 leading organizations involved in international humanitarian response sent a letter to the Trump administration objecting “in the strongest terms” to the U.S. decision to withhold $65 million in planned U.S. contributions to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). The letter was sent to United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, and Secretary of Defense James Mattis.

We are deeply concerned about the humanitarian consequences of this decision on life-sustaining assistance to children, women and men in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Whether it is emergency food aid, access to primary healthcare, access to primary education, or other critical support to vulnerable populations, there is no question that these cuts, if maintained, will have dire consequences.

Eric Schwartz, president of Refugees International and former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration, said, “As reflected in comments by Ambassador Nikki Haley, this decision is aimed at punishing Palestinian political leaders and forcing them to make political concessions. But it is wrong to punish political leaders by denying life-sustaining aid to civilians. This is a dangerous and striking departure from U.S. policy on international humanitarian assistance which conflicts starkly with values that U.S. administrations and the American people have embraced. ”

Joel Charny, director of Norwegian Refugee Council USA and co-organizer of the letter with Refugees International, added, “It has been U.S. policy for decades that ‘a hungry child knows no politics,’ as President Reagan stated to justify U.S. assistance to famine-affected Ethiopia in 1984. Aid to save lives and alleviate suffering should be provided solely on the basis of need and there is no justification for violating this principle in the case of Palestinians civilians.”

The letter to the Trump Administration concludes: “It is deeply troubling to witness such a casual disregard of principles that have been crucial to U.S. policy deliberations over many decades. We hope sincerely that you will reconsider this unfortunate decision, which we believe undermines critically important values as well as U.S. leadership around the world.”