Head of U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees urges more Japanese aid amid slash in U.S. funding

by Chisato Tanaka

Staff Writer

The head of the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees has called on the government to offer additional urgent support following a U.S. decision to cut more than half of its funding.

“In order to keep the schools for 525,000 people open and to keep education and health service going, we need to overcome this financial gap. Otherwise there will be more instability in the Middle East,” Pierre Krahenbuhl, commissioner-general of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, said at a news conference Thursday in Tokyo.

His trip to Japan came after the U.S. government announced on Jan. 16 that it will withhold $65 million from a $125 million aid package for the organization.

Since his controversial decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in December, Trump has taken swipes at Palestinians on Twitter. In a post on Jan. 2, Trump said, “… we pay the Palestinians HUNDRED OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect.” He added that “with the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?”

Speaking at the Japan National Press Club, Krahenbuhl praised Japan for its role in supporting the agency. “Japan is one of our foremost partners. That is characterized by trust, investment, our key areas of work, and very strong sense of commitment to UNRWA’s mandate and activities,” he said.

In a courtesy call to Foreign Minister Taro Kono on Wednesday, Krahenbuhl expressed hope for continued support, the Foreign Ministry said. Kono was quoted as telling Krahenbuhl that Japan is determined to continue providing support to the agency and described its activity as crucial — not only for Palestinian refugees but also for achieving stability in the Middle East.

Krahenbuhl also met with other government officials including Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Kotaro Nogami and senior officials of the Japan International Cooperation Agency.

Of 57 international donors, the U.S. gave the most aid in 2016 with an estimated $368.43 million, accounting for over 30 percent of the agency’s overall budget. Japan ranked seventh with a donation of around $44.5 million, nearly doubling its support since 2013, according to data from the ministry.

Mandated by the U.N. General Assembly to provide assistance to the Palestinian refugee community in May 1950, the agency has been a lifeline for over 5 million refugees in the occupied territories, offering access to education, health care, and social services as well as support with food supplies.

Since the 1993 Oslo Accords — a series of agreements between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization — Japan has been supporting the activities of the agency mainly in the health and food sectors with a goal of building a peaceful environment in the Middle East.