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Armed Conflicts

Funding for UN Palestinian Relief Agency is Threatened While Investigations Continue

UNRWA's funding is in jeopardy after allegations that some staff were involved in the Hamas' October 7 attack in Gaza. The concern is that UNRWA's humanitarian aid is crucial to the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip. Credit: Hussein Owda/UNRWA

UNRWA's funding is in jeopardy after allegations that some staff were involved in the Hamas' October 7 attack in Gaza. The concern is that UNRWA's humanitarian aid is crucial to the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip. Credit: Hussein Owda/UNRWA

UNITED NATIONS, Jan 30 2024 (IPS) - The consequences of the investigation into the 12 United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) staffers allegedly linked to the October 7 Hamas attack in Israel have led to major donor countries pulling their support from the UN agency. However, the agency has appealed to the governments to continue the aid in the face of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

The first to suspend their funding was the United States on January 26. Since then, donor countries that have suspended funding include Britain, France, Germany, Finland, Canada, and the European Union.

The common reason cited was that funding would not be continued until an outcome was reached following an investigation into the allegations against the UNRWA staff members.

This UN agency is largely dependent on funding from donors, notably leading member states like the United States, which was its largest donor in 2022 with a contribution of more than USD 343 million. In that same year, the United States, Germany, and EU member states were among the largest individual donors, accounting for 61.4 percent of the agency’s overall funding.

Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric briefed reporters on Monday on the investigation into UNRWA after the Israeli government presented allegations that employees at UNRWA were involved in the October 7.

He confirmed that the UN Office of Internal Oversight (OIOS) has begun its investigation into the agency and that Secretary General António Guterres met with the head of OIOS to ensure that the investigation would be done “as swiftly and as efficiently as possible.”  He also informed reporters that Guterres would be meeting with the UN Permanent Representatives of UNRWA donor countries on Tuesday.

In a separate statement, Guterres expressed that he was “horrified by these accusations.” He also “strongly appealed to the governments that have contributions to, at least, guarantee the continuity of UNRWA’s operations.”

It is crucial that UNRWA’s operations continue in the current humanitarian crisis because 2 million civilians in Gaza depend on the aid it provides.

“No other organization than UNRWA has the infrastructure to do the work that they do,” said Dujarric.

UNRWA’s operations range from providing schooling to shelters to running health care centers. Since the current war between Israel and Hamas, at least 145 UNRWA facilities have been damaged.

In a recent situation report from UNRWA, it was stated that 1.7 million displaced people were sheltered across emergency shelters, both public and those run by UNRWA, adding that these shelters were congested. Only four out of 22 UNRWA health care centers are operational, and 152 staff members have been reported dead. Meanwhile, 3,000 out of the 13,000 UNRWA staff members, the majority of whom are Palestinian, are still in Gaza, continuing their work.

Despite its crucial presence and the urgent needs it addresses, allegations of staff members’ involvement with Hamas have undermined support for UNRWA. The Israeli government provided a dossier to the United States, which detailed the allegations that at least 10 percent of UNRWA were part of Hamas. This dossier has not been shared with the UN, according to Dujarric.

While current measures by UNRWA were to single out the 12 staffers accused and terminate their contracts, the suspension of funds by the major donor countries will have undeniably impacted the entire agency’s operations. The UN has warned that the current funding is insufficient to meet the requirements until February. The fear is that the funds will run out within weeks.

In a statement, UNRWA Commissioner-General Phillipe Lazzarini stated that “it would be immensely irresponsible to sanction an agency and an entire community it serves because of allegations of criminal acts against some individuals, especially at a time of war, displacement, and political crises in the region.”

Lazzarini urged UNRWA to “strengthen its framework for the strict adherence of all staff to humanitarian principles” by calling for an additional independent investigation by outside experts in addition to the OIOS investigation.

IPS UN Bureau Report


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