Palestinians Say UNRWA-US Deal Violates Many Rights

Palestinians in the besieged Gaza Strip have continued to demand the end of the agreement between the US and the United Nation’s agency for Palestinian refugees, saying that the deal violates many rights such as the right to return for refugees.

Dozens of people protested in front of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) headquarters on October 5. 

They have called for an end to the Framework for Cooperation, which is an agreement signed between the US and UNRWA for 2021-2022 that calls for the resumption of funds to the refugee agency after it was halted by the Trump’s administration. Under the framework, which was signed in July, the United States paid UNRWA $135.8 million in additional funds. 

These are not to be used “to furnish assistance to any refugee who is receiving military training as a member of the so-called Palestinian Liberation Army or any other guerrilla-type organization or has engaged in act of terrorism,” the framework stated. It also includes the “monitoring Palestinian [school] curriculum content”.

Palestinian outrage

The deal sparked a wave of protests and drew criticism from Palestinians who see it as a “threat” to Palestinian refugee rights and a “serious change” in UNRWA’s vision. It was also signed without consulting the Palestinian Authority or any other Palestinian body.

Senior Islamic Jihad member Ahmed al-Mudallal told Al Jazeera that “by this agreement, UNRWA will act as a security agent for the US state through chasing employees and refugees who benefit from its services.” 

It seems to not go in line with the UN agency’s work towards the refugees. Gaza-based lawyer, Salah Abdulatti confirmed that the agreement violates UN covenants, the Refugee Convention, and the agency’s authority. “The UN agency has no right to sign a contract at the expense of refugees’ interests and impose restrictions on their freedom of expression under the pretext of neutrality,” expressed.

Abdulatti referred to the funding to UNRWA as a form of “flagrant blackmailing” and a way of transforming the agency into an intelligence agency “whose goal is to provide security information.”

It is worth mentioning that the US used to donate one-third of the UNRWA budget, but the amount was reduced to $365m annually, following Trump’s move to slash funding. Nevertheless, UNRWA’s chief Philippe Lazzarini stated in July that this US donation shows that “we once again have an ongoing partner in the United States that understands the need to provide critical assistance to some of the region’s most vulnerable refugees.”

Amid Palestinian protests, Lazzarini has told reporters that the body is facing an “existential” budget crisis and appealing for urgent funding of $120 million to keep essential services running. “The financial situation is a real existential threat on the organization, and we should not underestimate this because it might force the organization to decrease services,” he said. 

At stake is the agency’s ability to keep 550,000 children in school, provide health care for thousands, and pay the salaries for its 28,000 staffers. Lazzarini further explained that it is unsure if they will be able to keep activities in November and December.

To reverse this bad economic situation, Lazzarini announced that Sweden and Jordan will be co-hosting a conference in mid-November in Brussels with the main aim to ensure more predictable multi-year funding for the agency. He said UNRWA is seeking $800 million a year for three years for its activities regarding education, health care, and social protection.

Further demonstrations against the deal have been called and will continue until it is scrapped. “We call on the Palestinian Authority and the UNRWA host countries to move to cancel this agreement, and not to accept any conditional funding at the expense of Palestinian refugees’ rights,” voiced Mahmoud Khalaf, coordinator for the Joint Refugee Committee. “Our protests will continue until this unjust agreement is revoked.”

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