US Funding Cuts Could Close Palestinian Refugee Schools
515,000 children are at risk of being affected by the lack of aid.
Hundreds of schools for Palestinian refugees in the Middle East fear they could close by the end of the month.
The Trump administration’s decision to end funding for the UN Relief and Works Agency, also known as UNRWA, is to blame, NBC reports.
UNRWA schools offer education to 515,000 students, who are at risk of being affected by the lack of aid, but the agency also provides social services for about 5 million Palestinian refugees across the Middle East. UNRWA operates 66 free schools across Lebanon alone.
UNRWA was created in 1949 as a response to the nearly 700,000 Palestinian refugees who were displaced during the war to create Israel in 1948. The US supported the agency for decades until presidential senior adviser Jared Kushner introduced his “deal of the century,” which initially leaked via e-mail and is meant to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by dissolving Palestinians’ refugee status.
On Aug. 31, the US State Department announced it would cut all funding to the agency, saying it was “irredeemably flawed,” according to CNN. The UNRWA says the US contributed $350 million to the agency in 2017.
Chris Gunness, a UNRWA spokesperson, shared his concern with NBC.
“Whole communities are being deprived of hope and the belief in a dignified future,” he said.
And that could include education. Palestinians like former math teacher Al Saifi, haven’t felt supported by the Trump administration lately in light of the US embassy moving to Jerusalem, a city the administration is also calling the capital of Israel — both acts that undid seven decades of neutral American policy. Schools are crucial to uplifting those living in refugee camps, Fatima Al Qaisi, the principal of Dheisheh Basic Girls School, in the West Bank pointed out to NBC.
“The schools are the center of the community," she said. "Not part — the center."
US UNRWA cuts are especially discouraging to Palestinians who feel their resources give them hope they’ll return home one day, according to NBC.
Fuad Ashool, a father of four who lives in the Nahr al-Bared camp in northern Lebanon stressed the importance of being able to ensure refugee children receive an education, to Voice of America.
"We have our hands on our hearts and are really afraid of the future — I am worried about where my kids are going to go," Ashool said.
Historically the US has been UNRWA’s biggest donor, and without its support the agency will lose more than $200 million, NBC reported. Despite the cuts, the State Department insists the US will try finding new ways to help Palestinian children.
But the potential loss of the UNRWA could have a dangerous ripple effect, says German Foreign Minister Heiko Maa, which is why Germany has offered to donate an additional amount of money. Maas detailed out this plan in a letter to other European countries, according to NBC.
Despite the US funding cut, at least United Nations schools for Palestinian refugees in Lebanon are staying open, for now.