Palestine Refugees: EU Parliament Urges US to Reconsider Decision to Withhold UNRWA Funding – Press Release

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Joint debate on Palestine/UNRWA with Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.   
Federica Mogherini during the plenary debate on 6 February

To stem the impact of a reduction in US funding, Parliament is calling on the EU to mobilise additional finance for the UN agency for Palestine refugees.

MEPs are calling on the US to reverse its recent decision to withhold $65 million in funding to Unrwa, the UN agency for Palestine refugees. In a resolution adopted on 8 February, they also encourage the EU and its member states to mobilise additional funding for the agency and urge Arab states to contribute more.

Established in 1949, Unrwa provides essential services for some five million Palestine refugees dispersed across the Middle East. In a plenary debate on 6 February, the EU’s foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini noted the “key political contribution that Unrwa brings to the prospect of relaunching a credible peace process”. She also stressed that “reducing the agency’s activities would cause instability and even security threats all around the region”.

“Another blow to the Middle East peace process”

 Neoklis Sylikiotis, chair of Parliament’s Palestine delegation, said: “The provocative decision of the US is yet another blow to the Middle East peace process,” adding “the Trump administration has already led the peace process into a dead end by recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel”.

Speaking in the same debate, European Commissioner Johannes Hahn stressed: “The EU and its member states are by far the largest provider of assistance to Palestine refugees.” He announced that the EU would fast track a payment of €82 million to Unrwa by the end of this month. This is in addition to a new €42.5 million assistance package for Palestinians announced on 31 January.

Slovenian ALDE member Ivo Vajgl described the work of Unrwa as “indispensable” and said that Donald Trump’s recent move to withhold funding would be a “huge obstacle to further progress”.

Speaking on behalf of the EPP group, Spanish member José Ignacio Salafranca Sánchez-Neyra told MEPs: “We are talking here about people, millions of people. Two million refugees in Lebanon, almost half a million in Jordan, 540,000 in Syria, 1.4 million in the Gaza Strip, 800,000 in the West Bank. These are people whose basic needs have to be dealt with, children whose futures are at stake.”

Unrwa’s “extraordinary efforts”

 Also speaking in the debate, Hungarian Greens/EFA member Tamás Meszerics said: “We need to engage with the peace process, because otherwise Unrwa will remain in place indefinitely and that is the worst possible outcome.”

Elena Valenciano, a Spanish member of the S&D group, described the need “to send out a message of hope in a region of the world where there are not many such messages”.

In the resolution adopted by MEPs on 8 February, Parliament applauded Unrwa for its “extraordinary efforts” and expressed concern that any reduction or delays in funding could result in “damaging impacts on access to emergency food assistance for 1.7 million Palestine refugees and primary healthcare for three million, and on access to education for more than 500,000 Palestinian children”.

Members also welcomed the decision by the EU and several of its member states to fast track funding to the agency, but called on Unrwa to ensure that its facilities are not misused.


Palestinian Bedouin camp with Israeli settlement of Ma'ale Adumim in the background   
Palestinian Bedouin camp with the Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Adumim in the background

Jerusalem as capital of both Israel and Palestine

 Before Christmas, in a move that was widely condemned as a violation of international law, US President Donald Trump recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. In the vote on 8 February, Parliament reiterated that the EU’s objective is to bring about a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on the 1967 borders, with Jerusalem as the capital of both states.

In December 2014, MEPs voted overwhelmingly in support of the “in principle recognition of Palestinian statehood”. In a resolution on the EU’s 2018 budget, MEPs called for more support for the Middle East peace process, the Palestinian Authority and Unrwa.

Click here for more information on Parliament’s role in the Middle East peace process.

What is Unrwa?
  • Following the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees was established by the UN General Assembly
  • In the absence of a solution to the Palestine refugee problem, the General Assembly has repeatedly renewed Unrwa’s mandate
  • When the agency began operations in 1950, it was responding to the needs of about 750,000 Palestine refugees. Today, some five million Palestine refugees are eligible for Unrwa services
  • Every day about 500,000 children receive an education in 702 Unrwa schools
  • Every year Unrwa medical staff handle more than nine million patient visits


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