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Executive Summary for January 17th

We review the latest refugee-related issues, including the U.S. partially withholding funding to the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, a drop in asylum applications in Germany and a $1 million donation to refugee groups by the winner of a prize for Jewish values.

Published on Jan. 17, 2018 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

U.S. Withholds Half of UNRWA Donation

The U.S. withheld half of an installment of its planned donation to the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, calling for unspecified reforms.

The U.S. is the largest donor to the U.N. Relief and Welfare Agency (UNRWA), which provides healthcare, education and social services to Palestinian refugees across the region. It gave $355 million to UNWRA in 2016 – around 30 percent of its budget – and was set to contribute roughly the same this year.

However, President Donald Trump criticized the aid payments earlier this year, tweeting “with the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?”

The question sparked internal debate within his administration, with U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley arguing for a total freeze in funds to UNRWA until peace talks resume, while Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis argued that causing an agency shutdown would bring instability.

In a compromise, the State Department announced it would provide $60 million of a planned $125 million funding installment, while the remaining $65 million would be released following UNRWA making reforms, without providing further details.

The cuts prompted dismay from UNRWA and refugee advocates. “This reduced contribution threatens one of the most successful and innovative human development endeavors in the Middle-East,” said Pierre Krahenbuhl, the head of UNRWA.

“Cutting aid to innocent refugee children due to political disagreements among well-fed grown men and women is a really bad politicization of humanitarian aid,” Norwegian Refugee Council Secretary-General Jan Egeland wrote on Twitter.

Number of Asylum Seekers Coming to Germany Drops by One-Third

The number of asylum seekers coming to Germany dropped by around one-third in 2017, according to government data.

Some 186,000 asylum seekers arrived in Germany last year, compared to 280,000 in 2016 and 890,000 in 2015. Most of the new arrivals were Syrian, followed by Iraqis and Afghans.

The 2017 figures suggest Germany’s target of allowing between 180,000 and 220,000 refugees per year – the result of a compromise during ongoing government coalition negotiations – is within reach.

German interior minister Thomas de Maiziere said the numbers still remained too high but welcomed the reduction of the backlog in open asylum claims – from 433,000 at the beginning of the year to 68,000 by the end of the year.

Kapoor Donates $1 Million Genesis Prize to Refugee Groups

British-Indian sculptor Anish Kapoor donated the $1 million Genesis Prize honoring Jewish values to five organizations working with refugees.

The prize honors people inspiring the next generation of Jews and upholding Jewish values and is partly funded by the Israeli government. Most Genesis prize laureates donate the prize money to causes they believe espouse those values.

“In recent months, awareness of the plight faced by tens of millions of refugees and displaced persons worldwide has fallen significantly while the refugee crisis continues unabated,” the artist said in a statement.

“Like many Jews, I do not have to go far back in my family history to find people who were refugees,” Kapoor said. He said he hoped the grants to the International Rescue Committee, the Multifaith Alliance for Syrian Refugees, HIAS, Help Refugees and Hillel International will help “bring more compassion into the world.”

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