Middle East Peace, Security and Development and UNRWA

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:00 pm on 15th June 2022.

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Photo of Sarah Champion Sarah Champion Chair, International Development Committee, Chair, International Development Committee 4:00 pm, 15th June 2022

I fully support my fellow Committee member and thank him for repeatedly raising his concerns about this issue. The forthcoming budget that goes alongside the development strategy is due in the next month, and it very much seems that global health will be the biggest casualty. The concerns that he raises are right. There does not seem to be a joined-up strategy on the impact of the cuts. If the Minister could outline that, it would help us all to understand the Government’s logic.

The impact of UNRWA breaking down because of donors such as the UK continuing to significantly decrease or stop its funding is unimaginable. Have the Government considered the consequences for millions of people in the middle east if the cuts cause significant reductions in UNRWA’s services? UNRWA has the expertise; it has proven effectiveness and can provide its services much cheaper than any other UN agency. Let me be frank: if people are left with no healthcare, no education and no job, what does the Minister think will happen to them?

The world already has a formidable tool to provide support to people in the form of UNRWA. Why would we want to weaken our own investment in it to the point of hundreds of thousands of people feeling they have no future? More needs to be done to work with the organisation. Of course, as we have outlined, UNRWA is not perfect—nothing is—but the Government’s cuts are threatening its capability to deliver support to a vulnerable population in the middle east. We need to maintain trusted relations with the people of Israel, Palestine, Jordan, and Lebanon. Palestinian refugees are a key constituency for peace in the region in terms of their number, socio-political relevance, and the refugees’ personal stake in the search for a lasting solution.

Without UNRWA, we risk destabilising the region further and emboldening those who do not share our belief that the best way to bring peace and stability to the region is through a political resolution to the conflict. The millions of people who access UNRWA’s services would be forced to turn elsewhere to survive. If we are to remain committed to our vision of two states, surely we should provide support to UNRWA, which has proved itself a reliable partner by which the international community can address the refugee constituency. Although it is non-political, UNRWA’s presence and role have been recognised as having significant implications for regional security and stability.

The Prime Minister has consistently highlighted that girls’ education is his top priority for UK aid. UNRWA directly supports that objective by operating one of the largest school systems in the middle east and providing primary education to over a half a million students, 50% of whom are girls. Gender parity in school enrolment was obtained in the early 1960s at UNRWA schools—long before any other country in the region. UNRWA is providing government-like services such as elementary and preparatory education, and, through that commitment to sustainable development goal 4, is playing its role as a major contributor to the 2030 SDG agenda.

It is clear that UNRWA is essential for the stability of that volatile and fragile region, so will the Minister explain the substantial cuts in UK funding to UNRWA, despite Ministers telling the House for years how excellent UNRWA’s services are? Why are the Government slashing funding to this essential and efficient organisation? Will the Government carry out an analysis of the impact of the funding cuts on UNRWA? Is there any plan to reinstate our financial support to previous levels, and what discussions has the Minister had with other potential donors to encourage them to back UNRWA? If the UK cannot or will not sufficiently support UNRWA, we have to ask: do we not have a responsibility towards these people? Is not stability in the middle east what we are aiming for, and why are we not doing all we can to achieve it?