UN Relief and Works Agency: US Funding

Oral Answers to Questions — International Development – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 28th February 2018.

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Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt Minister of State (Department for International Development) (Joint with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office), Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

We are concerned about the impact on UNRWA’s activities whenever unexpected reductions or delays in predicted donor disbursements occur, and I raised that with a senior US official last week. Our officials are collaborating with the US and other donors to maintain UNRWA’s vital services across the region.

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Infrastructure and Energy)

The Minister will be aware that half a million Palestinian children attend schools funded by the UN Relief and Works Agency—schools that should really be funded by Israel as the occupying force. Has that been explained to the US Administration, as well as the impact of the loss of $65 million of funding? Is it not time that Palestine was independent and controlled the resources?

Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt Minister of State (Department for International Development) (Joint with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office), Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

It has been clearly explained to US officials what the impact of the funding decision may be, particularly in Jordan, Lebanon and other places where Palestinian refugees are supported. We have provided £50 million to UNRWA in this financial year, which assists in the provision of education and other needs, and we will continue to provide funding.

Photo of Stephen Crabb Stephen Crabb Conservative, Preseli Pembrokeshire

Does my right hon. Friend agree that while the agreement between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas about resuming electricity supplies to the people of Gaza is to be welcomed, the key to resolving the infighting and improving the lives of all Gazans is the disarmament of Hamas and the renunciation of terror and violence?

Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt Minister of State (Department for International Development) (Joint with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office), Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

Yes. One cannot take the situation in Gaza away from the administration of Hamas and their failure to resolve issues in relation to Israel and to meet the Quartet principles. The people of Gaza have suffered from a number of different things and we continue to believe that only an overall settlement will assist their needs. We will continue to work for that.

Photo of Stephen Twigg Stephen Twigg Chair, International Development Committee, Chair, International Development Committee

In 2016, the International Development Committee saw the brilliant work of UNRWA on education in Jordan. Will the Government work with other countries to make up the funding shortfall as a result of this outrageous cut by the Trump Administration?

Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt Minister of State (Department for International Development) (Joint with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office), Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

We are working very keenly with other donors to get them to step up. I saw Commissioner-General Krähenbühl just last week in the UK and again at a recent conference. We know how much good work UNRWA does in the area. The education project the hon. Gentleman mentioned is particularly valuable. Other donors need to step up as well, and we will continue to be generous in our support for the needs of UNRWA.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

I thank my right hon. Friend for his answers. What representations has he made to UNRWA to make sure that it conforms to what the US Government wish to see, so that the funding can be restored?

Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt Minister of State (Department for International Development) (Joint with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office), Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

I have spoken with US officials recently and other officials in relation to this matter. It is important that UNRWA’s work continues. It needs to be done and it does deliver good quality services. We will continue to provide as much as we can to meet those needs.