The United Nations humanitarian agency responsible for the Palestinian refugees announced it would cut jobs in the Gaza Strip and West Bank following budget cuts imposed by the United States.

In a statement, the UN Relief and Works Agency otherwise known as UNRWA said cuts of 300 million dollars to the annual contribution by Washington to the Agency was an existential threat.

UNRWA announced that some 150 people would lose their jobs in the West Bank while a further 113 would be let go when their contracts expire in the Gaza Strip.

Workers outside UNRWA’s headquarters distraught that they had lost their jobs.

With the humanitarian agency forced to make tough decisions after the United States held back 300 million dollars in funding over tensions with the Palestinian Authority.

UN Secretary General Stephane Dujarric  says:”The emergency assistance critically underfunded in the occupied Palestinian territory, the Agency has been forced to take a number of mitigating measures. As a result, in the West Bank, UNRWA will discontinue its cash for work activities, effective July 31st.”

“However households assessed in the last two years as being abject poor, will be transitioned to the social safety net programme – a core programme of the agency which UNRWA is determined to continue. This will ensure that the most impoverished refugees inside camps continue to receive assistance and become eligible for other forms of support which are not available under cash for work.”

The agency provides services to more than 5 million Palestinian refugees across the Middle East region and employs some 20 000 people, the vast majority themselves Palestinian.

UNRWA funds schools and health clinics among other initiatives.

“When the money runs out, hard decisions have to be made, when the money runs out, the money runs out and that means aid stops from being distributed, mental health support, all these programmes that are often critical to populations in need, whether they are in the Occupied Palestinian territory, whether they are with refugees in Lebanon where we’ve seen in the past the World Food programme has had to cut aid or in humanitarian emergencies across Africa which are almost all very much underfunded – at some point decisions have to be made and that’s what UNRWA has been forced to do right now.”

The US State Department explained at the time that the decision to cut funding was made to promote reform at the relief agency and to encourage other countries to increase their contributions to the organisation.

But a decision by the Palestinian Authority to halt contacts with the United States over its Embassy move to Jerusalem is considered among the reasons for Washington’s funding cut.

Dujarric appealed for all member states to do more to support UNRWA.

“The Secretary General doesn’t have a cheque book, there are 193 cheque books, he has regularly, publicly and privately encouraged member states to give and to support UNRWA. He participated in two UNRWA fundraising conferences; one was in New York, the other in Rome. He went to Rome where he stood side by side with Pierre Krähenbühl to encourage member states in the strongest possible terms to give money and to give generously.”

“So I think he has been doing his utmost to put pressure on member states but at the end of the day, the cheque book is not in his jacket pocket.”

UNRWA is an agency established by the UN General Assembly in 1949 following the Arab Israeli war of 1948.