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BRITAIN must “live up to its historical responsibilities” towards Palestinian refugees by boosting support for vital UN work, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said at the weekend.
Speaking from the Baqa’a Palestinian refugee camp in Jordan on Saturday, Mr Corbyn said Britain must not copy US President Donald Trump’s “shameful” cuts.
“We have a historical responsibility towards the Palestinian people and, as one of the world’s richest countries, we can and we must take a lead in meeting the world’s most pressing humanitarian challenges,” he said.
“Instead of reducing funds to vital, life-saving refugee agencies, which support Palestinian children in schools and essential health services, as President Trump is doing, the UK must stand apart from the US by helping to fill the gap left by Donald Trump and boosting its funding.”
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) faces a $256 million (£145m) shortfall after a US decision to withhold $305m of the $365m (£230m of the £275m) which was expected this year.
In 2017, Britain’s funding to UNRWA plummeted £14m below its five-year average of £64m per year.
The agency has warned that the shortfall will leave it unable to deliver essential services for refugees.
Mr Corbyn said: “While we have rightly been one of UNRWA’s biggest donors, it is shameful that the UK government has not already stepped up to pledge more vital funding to UNRWA alongside other, poorer UN member states which have already done so.
“Support for Palestinian refugees can only be a holding operation until there is a just and viable settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict. But right now it is an essential commitment.”
UNRWA says it is confronted by an increased demand for services resulting from a growth in the number of the more than five million registered Palestine refugees, the extent of their vulnerability and their deepening poverty.
UNRWA commissioner-general Pierre Kraehenbuehl said: “At stake is access to schooling for a generation of Palestine refugee youth; access to essential health care in and around 58 refugee camps; and emergency assistance to millions of insecure refugees in an unstable region.”
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