UK funding cuts to UN Palestine relief agency bringing it ‘close to collapse’

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UK funding cuts to UN Palestine relief agency bringing it ‘close to collapse’

The commissioner-general of the UNRWA criticised the UK for having its core grant from £42.5m last year to £20.8m this year

Jenni Frazer is a freelance journalist

Lazzarini visiting a refugee settlement in West Bekaa, Lebanon, in August 2016 (Wikipedia/Author	Hannaschmitt/(CC BY-SA 4.0))
Lazzarini visiting a refugee settlement in West Bekaa, Lebanon, in August 2016 (Wikipedia/Author Hannaschmitt/(CC BY-SA 4.0))

The head of a UN agency was in London this week trying to persuade Britain’s Foreign Office to rethink its budget cuts, which affect Palestinian education.

Philippe Lazzarini, the commissioner-general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), said the cuts made by the UK were bringing it “close to collapse”.

The UK has more than halved its core grant, from £42.5 million last year to £20.8 million this year.

But, challenged about anti-Israel bias in the textbooks used in UNRWA schools, Lazzarini sidestepped the question. “Every year we have tens of schools that are rewarded by the British Council for the quality of their education,” he said. “By investing in the education of more than 500,000 boys and girls in the region, we are not only investing in the future, but in the stability of the region.”

Just two weeks ago Middle East minister James Cleverly responded to a question from Henley MP John Howell about the content of Palestinian textbooks. He told Howell the reduction in funding to the Palestinian Authority “was in direct response to the official development assistance prioritisation review, which was itself in response to the economic constraints driven by Covid”.

But, he added, Britain would “continue to support the Palestinians through UNRWA. We will ensure that, as we have done, we continue to press for that education curriculum to be devoid of any examples of antisemitism.”

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