The head of the UN welfare agency for Palestinian refugees has said that it will have to seek more funding from Ireland and other existing donors as a result of the US decision to radically reduce its funding contribution.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) was told last week that it is to receive $60m in funding from the US, as opposed to the funding of over $300m given in other years.

Asked on RTÉ’s This Week if the US cuts would mean a request for a greater contribution from Ireland, UNRWA Commissioner General Pierre Krähenbühl said: "Yes, of course, as with other of our donors, we will have to go back to each and every donor but I want to make it clear that the reliance is not only on the existing partners who have shown historically so much support."

He added: "We will have to find new funding alliances. It is clear that we must return to the Gulf to seek more regular, increased and predictable contributions. I have to go and look for them in the Asian context even more energetically".

Mr Krähenbühl said the funding cuts would be a destabilising factor in the Middle East.

"What's at stake is the situation of millions of people. UNRWA is in charge of a population that is larger than that of Ireland," he said.

He added: "We are a quasi-state like provider of education and healthcare services among others...There is no doubt in my mind that regional stability is also at stake.

"Of course, it’s not the only parameter that affects regional stability, but I really cannot see that this is in the interest of anyone concerned with stability or radicalisation in the Middle East to have UNRWA’s education system destabilised in one form or another".

Mr Krähenbühl said the US decision had come as a surprise to him as he had been given no indication of any cuts during a visit to Washington DC late last year.

He said: "When I was in Washington for an official visit in November last year, all the meetings, whether in the White House or the State Department confirmed very strong recognition for UNRWA’s role, our performance, for our accountability, for the robustness with which we addressed certain issues relating to the [UNRWA’s] neutrality. And so I cannot link the decision to performance related matters."

The UNRWA Commissioner General said he could see no other reason for the change of heart by the US Government, apart from a decision by the UN General Assembly resolution, which disagreed with President Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Mr Krähenbühl also took issue with a tweet by Mr Trump earlier this month in which he said Palestinians did not appreciate US funding.

"In terms of appreciation, I have been to so many inaugurations of schools that have been built with US funds, initiatives that have taken place supported by US funding and I’ve seen, on the contrary deep appreciation and that they are very aware of where the money is coming from and there is a lot of recognition for the generosity of the American people," Mr Krähenbühl said.

UNRWA was established in 1949 following the Arab-Israeli conflict to provide for the welfare of Palestinian refugees.

According to UNRWA’s website, five million Palestinian refugees are eligible for its services.