Leading Humanitarian Groups Urge US to Rethink Cuts to UNRWA (FULL TEXT)

UNRWA provides food aid, medical care and education to more than seven million Palestinian refugees. (Photo: Social Media)

The heads of 21 leading humanitarian organizations have appealed to the Trump administration to reverse its recent steps to slash funding to UNRWA, the UN agency which cares for the needs of Palestinian refugees in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) and wider region.

Signatories to the letter, which has been sent to US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, and Secretary of Defense James Mattis, include Oxfam America, Save the Children and Norwegian Refugee Council USA.

In the letter (which is reproduced in full below), the leaders say they are “deeply concerned by 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 US 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.”

The letter to the Trump administration concludes: “We hope sincerely that you will reconsider this unfortunate decision, which we believe undermines critically important values as well as US leadership around the world”.

Dear Secretary Tillerson, Secretary Mattis, Ambassador Haley and General McMaster,

As leaders of organizations deeply involved in programs and advocacy surrounding international humanitarian response, we write to object in the strongest of terms to the decision to withhold $65 million of the planned United States contribution to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

We are deeply concerned by 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.

We are particularly alarmed that this decision impacting humanitarian aid to civilians is not based on any assessment of need, but rather designed both to punish Palestinian political leaders and to force political concessions from them. This is simply unacceptable as a rationale for denying civilians humanitarian assistance, and a dangerous and striking departure from U.S. policy on international humanitarian assistance.

In 1984, in justifying its decision to provide humanitarian aid to famine-affected Ethiopia, the Reagan Administration declared that “a hungry child knows no politics,” and, indeed, this sentiment has guided U.S. policy makers for decades.

This sentiment is, for example, reflected in the international Good Humanitarian Donorship Initiative, an inter-governmental donor forum and network that the United States helped to establish during the Administration of George W. Bush. That Initiative includes best practices that the Bush administration and subsequent administrations have endorsed, including the propositions that “humanitarian action should be guided by … the centrality of saving human lives and alleviating suffering wherever it is found,” and that humanitarian assistance to vulnerable populations should be “solely on the basis of need, without discrimination between or within affected population.”

To be sure, application of these objectives by U.S. administrations has been imperfect, but all U.S. administrations have aspired to them, and 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.

Sincerely,

Joyce Ajlouny, General Secretary, American Friends Service Committee

Abby Maxman, President and CEO, Oxfam America

J Ron Byler, Executive Director, Mennonite Central Committee U.S.

Rev. John L. McCullough, President and CEO, Church World Service

Sean Callahan, President and CEO, Catholic Relief Services

Giulia McPherson, Interim Executive Director, Jesuit Refugee Service/USA

Joel Charny, Director, Norwegian Refugee Council USA

Carolyn Miles, President and CEO, Save the Children

Sarah Costa, Executive Director, Women’s Refugee Commission

David Miliband, President and CEO, International Rescue Committee

Halil Demir, Executive Director, Zakat Foundation of America

Eskinder Negash, Acting Chief Executive Officer, U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants

Mark Hetfield, President & CEO, HIAS

Michelle Nunn, President and CEO, CARE USA

Margaret Huang, Executive Director, Amnesty International USA

Eric Schwartz, President, Refugees International

Mohamed S. Idris, Executive Director American Relief Agency for the Horn of Africa

David A. Weiss, President & CEO, Global Communities

Neal Keny-Guyer, Chief Executive Officer, Mercy Corps

Samuel A. Worthington, Chief Executive Officer, InterAction

Anwar Ahmad Khan, President, Islamic Relief US

(MEMO, PC, Social Media)

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