Malaysia on Saturday announced a national fundraising campaign for UNRWA to fill the funding gap caused by US cuts to the organisation.
The campaign "aims to mobilise resources for UNRWA at a time when the Agency faces an unprecedented financial crisis after the United States, a leading supporter of the Agency, announced its decision to no longer fund the Agency," UNRWA's press release said.
Speaking at the launch event, Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Dr. Wan Azizah said: "The recent funding cuts to UNRWA undermine the education, healthcare and other life-saving services to vulnerable Palestine refugees." She called on Malaysians "to join this effort," saying "no matter how small, your contribution can make a big difference to people who have nothing".
The event, which was held in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, was attended by hundreds of people from Malaysia's public and private sectors. Chair of UNRWA's Dignity is Priceless campaign, Abdirahman Aynte, explained that "the campaign in Malaysia culminates months of bilateral discussions between the Government of Malaysia and UNRWA".
The move comes just two weeks after the US announced it would stop all funding to UNRWA, the UN body responsible for education, healthcare and shelter for some 5.4 million registered Palestinian refugees. The news was broken by Foreign Policy magazine, which disclosed that "the decision was made at a meeting earlier [in August] between President Donald Trump's advisor and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo." Formerly the US had provided some $350 million a year to UNRWA, accounting for more than a quarter of the agency's $1.2 billion annual budget.
The US announcement was widely criticised, with Spain and Turkey condemning the decision and Germany and the UK announcing they would step up funding for UNRWA to fill the gap. However Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the news, saying "the US has done a very important thing by halting the financing for the refugee perpetuation agency known as UNRWA." In September it emerged that Netanyahu had personally endeavoured to influence the US decision, ignoring the advice of his security cabinet who opposed the UNRWA cuts.
In January, the US announced that it would withhold $65 million from UNRWA, saying that the organisation needed to "reform". The move was criticised by Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) official Wasel Abu Youssef, who called the move a deliberate effort to deny Palestinians their rights and linking it to President Trump's decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem and recognise the city as Israel's capital.
Malaysia has a long history of support for the Palestinian cause. In August, the Malaysian foreign ministry condemned the detention of activists on the Freedom Flotilla, two ships carrying international activists that tried to break the Israeli-imposed naval blockade on the besieged Gaza Strip. The ministry called on Israel to immediately release all detained activists and expressed concern for Malaysian national Mohammed Afandi, a member of the Malaysian charity My Care who was on-board the ship.
In April, Malaysia called Israel's assault on protesters taking place in the Great March of Return "totally uncalled for and unacceptable". A statement from the foreign ministry said that "Malaysia condemns in the strongest terms Israel's aggression towards the Palestinians involved in the peaceful Great Return March" and "called upon the international community to act swiftly and decisively to avoid further loss of Palestinian lives".