The United Nations Relief and Works Agency, known as UNRWA, is facing a crisis. This is the humanitarian agency that provides relief for Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria. This includes running hospitals and schools that serve about half a million children.

Typically, the United States has provided about one third of UNRWA’s overall budget, judging the organization to be a source of stability in an otherwise volatile region.  The Trump administration, however, has frozen US payments to the humanitarian agency. It did so in retaliation to a vote at the UN General Assembly in which member states overwhelmingly condemned the Trump administration’s decision to formally recognize Jerusalem as the capitol of Israel and move its embassy there. Withholding promised funding for humanitarian relief for Palestinian refugees was the Trump administration’s payback for this vote.

On the line with me to discuss what this budget crisis means on the ground for Palestinian refugees is Peter Mulrean, Director of UNRWA’s Representative Office in New York. We also discuss the history of UNRWA, the role is serves in Palestinian society and in the politics of the region, and how it might overcome this funding crisis imposed by the Trump administration.

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