What is Unrwa and What Would It Mean if Trump Cuts Its Funding?

The agency has never been involved in peace negotiations and has instead focused its attention on humanitarian efforts throughout the Middle East in areas where the largest numbers of displaced Palestinians are concentrated. Israel has regularly feuded with the organization, as it rejects the Palestinian demand for a right of return for the refugees displaced by the Arab-Israeli conflict.

But despite Israel’s reservations, the organization is internationally recognized for its humanitarian efforts, and it plays a major role in the region.

At times its role is as basic as providing a safe space for civilians. Much in the same way that other United Nations facilities have become a haven in times of active conflict, an Unwra school was used by thousands of civilians seeking shelter during the 2014 Gaza war.


Palestinian refugees on the balcony a United Nations led school converted into a shelter in Gaza in 2014.Credit Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

What does Unrwa do?

What is Unrwa and What Would It Mean if Trump Cuts Its Funding?
What is Unrwa and What Would It Mean if Trump Cuts Its Funding?

Unrwa mainly provides services and funding for those registered as Palestinian refugees in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. (The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is responsible for Palestinian refugees outside Unrwa’s areas of operation.)

Nearly the entire population of the Gaza Strip receives aid from Unrwa. The agency acts almost as a de facto government there, responsible for the majority of schools, health care facilities and some public services.

In Jordan, which hosts more than two million registered Palestinian refugees, hosts the largest number of people who are provided aid by Unrwa.

More than half of Unrwa’s budget for programs goes toward education, and in 2016, 17 percent of the budget was set aside for health care. On Wednesday, the agency pointed out the role that it plays in the region, while also highlighting the United States’ contribution to those efforts.

.@UNRWA provides life-saving humanitarian assistance and critical development services in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon, thanks to the support of the international community, including the United States.

— UNRWA USA (@unrwausa) Jan. 3, 2018

The agency also provides loans through its microfinance department, which support small local businesses.

What would a U.S. funding cut mean?


People walked by closed shops during a general strike to protest President Donald J.Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, at Al-Baqaa Palestinian refugee camp in Jordan.Credit Muhammad Hamed/Reuters

The United States is the top funder of Unrwa, and according to figures released in 2016, it contributed nearly $369 million, including emergency funding for aiding Palestinian refugees caught up in Syria’s brutal civil war.

If the American funding was eliminated, the agency would face a significant deficit in its budget. The next biggest donor in 2016, the European Union, contributed less than half of what the United States did. The agency receives contributions from more than 100 donors, and its entire budget for 2016 was nearly $1.25 billion.

But any cuts would affect those most in need.

More than 500,000 children are taught in 700 Unrwa-run schools across the Middle East, according to the agency. Unrwa provides funding for more than nine million patients visits at health care facilities in the region. It employs more than 30,000 people.

Despite Mr. Trump’s Twitter message, Chris Gunness, an Unrwa spokesman, said the agency had not received any formal notification that the Trump administration intended to cut its funding.

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