SIDON, Lebanon: Hundreds of uniformed students demonstrated in Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp Thursday to protest against recent U.S. funding cuts to the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees. Children wore traditional keffiyehs and waved Palestinian flags, with some holding blue balloons and posters with slogans supporting UNRWA’s “Dignity is Priceless” fundraising campaign, launched in January to raise $500 million after the United States’ decision to cut aid money to the agency.
On Jan. 16, U.S. President Donald Trump axed an earmarked contribution to the agency from $125 million to $65 million and suspended further funding.
Demonstrators led by the student bodies of nine UNRWA schools inside Ain al-Hilweh chanted “dignity is priceless” and “we want to learn” as they rallied across the camp, releasing white doves as a symbol for peace. “We are birds of peace. Do not deprive us of flying with the wings of knowledge,” read one of the posters.
“We have 525,000 Palestinian students in the five countries where UNRWA operates. Their education is at risk due to the lack of donations,” coordinator for the fundraising campaign Ahmad al-Lababidi told The Daily Star,
One protesting student, Ali Monzer Moussa, said UNRWA is “facing a plot to end it, a plot that targets the refugee issue and deprives thousands of students of education.”
“The unjust decision to decrease aid to UNRWA will cost us [Palestinians] a cultural, scientific and social regression. Isn’t it enough that we are displaced and deprived of our homeland?” another student, Sarah Abo Attieh, said, calling on authorities to revoke the decision.
“Education is really important and we will not allow anyone to close our door to education,” student Sarah Ahmad Sharaidi warned. “Education is our weapon and it will stay that way.”
UNRWA announced its appeal for $500 million at the end of January after the U.S. decision to reduce funding. The agency warned at the time that the reduction would have a “significant impact on the daily lives of millions of vulnerable Palestine refugees across Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and the West Bank including East Jerusalem.”
In Lebanon, the first funds to dry up are set to be those of the cash assistance project to Palestinian refugees from Syria. These will halt by the end of March.
Palestinian children from Syria are so far guaranteed the completion of the school year, but enrollments in September 2018 are dependent on new funding.