UN Aid to Palestinian Refugees

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Office – in the House of Commons on 22nd January 2019.

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Photo of Marsha de Cordova Marsha de Cordova Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) (Disabled People)

What steps he is taking to help ensure the long-term sustainability of UN aid to Palestinian refugees.

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

The UN Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA, is a necessary humanitarian and stabilising presence in the region, providing vital services to millions of Palestinian refugees every day. We have increased our funding to UNRWA, providing £65.5 million in 2018.

Photo of Marsha de Cordova Marsha de Cordova Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) (Disabled People)

On 9 January, the Minister said:

“Work is going on to ensure that, in the long term, UNRWA is sustainable.”—[Official Report, 9 January 2019;
Vol. 652, c. 349.]

However, UNRWA is already closing health centres, and doubling and trebling up, and shifting schools to cut costs. If it closes down, what will happen to the 526,000 children in UNRWA schools and the 3.1 million patients of UNRWA health services? Will the Minister set out exactly what is going on?

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

We sought to increase our funding, as I mentioned to the hon. Lady, but we also talk to other donors. It is impossible for the United Kingdom to fill the gap created, but the point she makes is extremely pertinent: if the education of those in Gaza and children of Palestinian refugees stops, I wonder what organisation in the region would like to take over the education of impressionable youngsters.

Photo of Stephen Crabb Stephen Crabb Conservative, Preseli Pembrokeshire

Ongoing humanitarian support for Palestinians is vital but, given the track record of Hamas in seeking to abuse and exploit UNRWA, what assurances will the Minister give about protecting the independence and integrity of UNRWA and ensuring that taxpayers’ money is used to good effect?

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

I hear my right hon. Friend, but it is really important for the House to be clear that UNRWA is an independent organisation run by the UN. Of course practical pressures are caused in Gaza, because Gaza is run by Hamas, but it is wrong to suggest that UNRWA is in hock to anyone else but those who contribute as donors. It does vital work—health, education and services—and it is essential that that continues, because if UNRWA does not do it—I ask the House—who would step in to provide support, where would the finances come from and what would be done with them?

Photo of Richard Burden Richard Burden Labour, Birmingham, Northfield

Does the Minister agree that the announcement by the Israeli authorities that they plan to close UNRWA schools in East Jerusalem is a direct attack on the welfare of Palestinian refugees in two refugee camps there, including 3,000 students? I welcome the Minister’s increased funding for UNRWA, but will he commit to support the renewal of UNRWA’s mandate later this year?

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

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question; he knows the area very well. Of course we will continue to support UNRWA, and look hard at the mandate renewal. It is important that it continues its work there because, as I have said, there is concern about what the impact would be if that work is not done. As I said earlier, all this tells us that such disputes and concerns will not change unless there is overall agreement on a settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. Unless that is done, these problems will continue to occur, much to the misery of all involved.