Jeremy Corbyn decries US funding cut for Palestinian refugees

UK opposition leader calls US decision to slash budget for UN agency ‘big mistake’ as he visits Jordan refugee camps.

Britain''s opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn walks during his visit to Al Zaatari refugee camp in Mafraq
Corbyn visited two of the biggest refugee camps in Jordan to mark World Refugee Day [Muhammad Hamed/Reuters]

Amman, Jordan – British opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn has decried a US decision to cut more than half of its planned funding to the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, as he called for an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. 

The leader of the Labour Party made the comments in an interview with Al Jazeera on Saturday during a visit to Jordan marking the UN’s World Refugee Day earlier this week.

Jordan is one of the countries most affected by the refugee crisis. It has the second-highest share of refugees compared to its population in the world – 89 per 1,000 inhabitants – according to UNHCR, the UN’s refugee agency. 

While in Jordan, Corbyn visited two of the biggest refugee camps – al-Zaatari for Syrians and al-Baqa’a for Palestinians. 

He spoke to Al Jazeera about the refugee crisis, the US’ policies in the Middle East and Britain’s departure from the European Union. The interview below has slightly been edited for brevity.

Al Jazeera: What are the main reasons for your visit to Jordan, and why now?

Corbyn: I came for the International Refugee Day on June 20 in order to try to understand the enormity of the refugee numbers in Jordan and the conditions in the camps.

We were yesterday in a camp for Syrian refugees and today we are in the camp for Palestinian refugees. I’ve used the opportunity to talk to experts in the camps and also to volunteers who are helping them.

We have to recognise that there are 65 million people in the world who are refugees. They all have rights; they all need somewhere to live; they all need to be recognised – and my visit is a part of that process.

A Syrian refugee woman offers sweets to Corbyn during his visit to al-Zaatari refugee camp [Muhammad Hamed/Reuters]
A Syrian refugee woman offers sweets to Corbyn during his visit to al-Zaatari refugee camp [Muhammad Hamed/Reuters]

Al Jazeera: How do you see the infrastructure and the services in the refugee camps? Do you think the international community should put more effort into developing the situation? And are you satisfied with the British support or do you think the UK can give more?

Corbyn: The camps are as well run as they can be.

I was very impressed with the degree of organisation in the al-Zaatari camp for Syrians and the health facilities there, as well as the solar-powered electricity generation – the equipment was donated by Germany, but the refugees put it in themselves. I think that is brilliant.

But the problem is that there is insufficient funding to pay the staff, there is insufficient funding to develop the infrastructure.

So Britain has been providing quite a lot of money to help Syrian refugees, and I support and welcome that. I think we should give more money to support UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East] at the same time.

The Palestinian people's rights must be met, and that means an end to the occupation, the settlement policy, and the siege of Gaza, as well as recognising the right to return.

by Jeremy Corbyn, Labour Party leader

Al Jazeera: How do you think US President Donald Trump’s decisions about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict will affect the region? And how do you see Britain position until today?

Corbyn: I think the decision to locate the US embassy in Jerusalem was a huge mistake. And I think the decision to cut the funding from UNRWA is a huge mistake.

I don’t know what his “deal of the century” involves, but what I do know is the Palestinian people’s rights must be met. That means an end to the occupation, the settlement policy and the siege of Gaza, as well as recognising the right to return.

Al Jazeera: How do you think the rise of the right-wing will affect the relationship between Britain and Europe with the Middle East?

Corbyn: I also think there’s been a rise in the consciences of many ordinary people who are concerned when they see refugees dying in the Mediterranean and when they see people who are victims of situations not in any sense of their own making.

And I think there’s a growth of understanding of human rights and decency and compassion within our society, as well as a need to reduce inequality across the world.

Al Jazeera: Two years after the Brexit vote, how do you think this has re-shaped the relationship between Britain and the European Union? And where is it going?

Corbyn: There is obviously a negotiation going on. My complaint is that the British government is more interested in negotiating with each other in the government rather than negotiating on behalf of Britain.

The Labour position is that we want to reach an agreement with the European Union which means that we keep and recognise the regulations that we have inherited from the European Union on employment consumer and environmental protections.

And that we have a customs and trade access to the European market because many jobs in Britain rely on trade with Europe and likewise across Europe. So I am very concerned that Airbus and some other companies are considering their future in Britain because of the lack of trade with Europe.

There has to be a proper trade agreement with Europe.

Source: Al Jazeera