Refugee Budget Cuts Particularly Cruel to Palestinian Refugees

By Dina Awshah, MENA Government Relations Intern, Amnesty International USA

President Trump’s budget request shows no signs of backing off from his blatant hostility toward refugees, but the numbers reveal even crueler cuts than imagined. It’s bad enough that just when the worldwide refugee crisis hits historic proportions, the Trump administration dramatically proposed to cut humanitarian aid to refugees for the first time in US history. But it’s particularly cruel to single out one particular group of refugees for extra punishment — Palestinian refugees.

Since its inception back in 1949, the US has always been the top donor for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). But this year the total donation has been sliced to $60 million dollars, down from $360 million in 2017.

Trump posed new, unprecedented, geographic restrictions that bans UNRWA from using US donations to support operations in Syria and Lebanon. Though their work in the Occupied Palestinian Territories is essential, 80 percent of UNRWA’s beneficiaries reside outside of the area. Refugees in Syria and Lebanon are already suffering from one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. Palestinian refugees in Syria are once again being displaced due to the ongoing civil war.

UNRWA provides essential services like education, medical services, finance assistance, and infrastructure improvement. Education is, in fact, one of UNRWA’s biggest priorities. It is important that these young students receive a high-quality education that incorporates gender equality and human rights, in order to help them develop the skills needed to thrive as adults.

The gender equality aspect is exceedingly important to the work that UNRWA does. UNRWA creates coalitions to support girls’ education in the region, and to support girls’ extracurricular activities as well. Without the proper funding, girls might not receive an education, much less a quality education, if the schools are not there to do so.

For UNRWA to continue to be able to provide these resources and services to the Palestinian refugee population, it must have proper funding, which makes the Trump Administration’s decision to cut funding so devastating.

The funding cuts are not the only consequences from the Trump Administration that Palestinian with which the refugees have had to contend. Though they are not named in Trump’s discriminatory travel ban, those who fled years ago to Syria are caught up in its hateful shadow. After being displaced from their homes in Palestine, these refugees are again displaced from their new homes in Syria, where they carry Syrian identification cards, and have no place to go.

In his first speech at the UN General Assembly, Trump stated that “we offer financial assistance to hosting countries in the region […] that will seek to host refugees as close to their home countries as possible”, citing Jordan and Lebanon as examples. This offers no consolation now, because Palestinian refugees in Syria must leave due to a horrific civil war, but they cannot receive aid from UNRWA anymore, either. The Trump administration has effectively shut the door and removed any consolation these refugees had, trapping them in a cycle of strife and violence.

So refugees are between a rock and a hard place. The combination of the administration’s travel ban and the budget cuts is eliminating refugees’ access to life-sustaining services and denying them a safe place in the US. These refugees are being denied their basic human rights to life, security of person, freedom of movement, education, and health, while this administration boasts of its effective foreign policy strategy to ensure peace in the region.

It is necessary to Palestinian refugees’ livelihoods to be able to receive services that are supposedly guaranteed to all humans as basic rights. Rather than use refugees as a political tool, the U.S. should sustain robust funding for humanitarian and refugee assistance.

Raed Jarrar, MENA Advocacy Director of Amnesty International USA, made contributions to this piece.

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