Donor countries halt funding to UN agency in Gaza

AFP , Tuesday 30 Jan 2024

Around a dozen key donor countries have said they will halt funding to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees following Israel's allegations that staff members took part in Hamas's 7 October attack.

Palestinians stand at the entrance of the UNRWA-run University College for Educational Science Ramal
Palestinians stand at the entrance of the UNRWA-run University College for Educational Science Ramallah city in the occupied West Bank on January 29, 2024. AFP


The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) has fired several people and promised a thorough investigation into the claims, while Israel has vowed to stop the agency's work in Gaza after the war.

The head of UNRWA, Philippe Lazzarini, vowed to hold "accountable, including through criminal prosecution", any employee found to have been involved in "acts of terror".

UN chief Antonio Guterres has promised an urgent independent review of UNRWA while also pleading for donor states to "guarantee the continuity" of the agency for the sake of "the desperate populations" it serves.

But the UN's coordinator for Gaza aid said Tuesday that "no organisation can "replace or substitute" the agency and "their knowledge of the population in Gaza".

The United States said Friday that it had suspended funding for the UN agency, a move followed by several other countries. Here is what they have said:

- Australia -

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong said that while UNRWA provides "vital, life saving work", the government would "temporarily pause disbursement of recent funding".

"We welcome UNRWA's immediate response, including terminating contracts and launching an investigation," she said on social media platform X, formerly Twitter.

- Britain -

The British government said it was "appalled by the allegations" made by Israel and would be "temporarily pausing any future funding" while the Foreign Office reviewed the claims.

- Canada -

Canada's International Development Minister Ahmed Hussen announced that Ottawa had "temporarily paused any additional funding to UNRWA while it undertakes a thorough investigation into these allegations".

- Finland -

Finland had a four-year agreement to provide five million euros ($5.4 million) annually to UNRWA.

Its foreign ministry suspended its payments and called for "an independent and thorough investigation".

"We must make sure that not a single euro of Finland's money goes to Hamas or other terrorists," it said.

- France -

Paris said it was not planning any new funding to UNRWA after the accusations.

"France has not planned a new payment for the first quarter of 2024 and will decide when the time comes of the action to take together with the United Nations and the main donors," the foreign ministry said, calling the allegations "exceptionally serious".

- Germany -

Germany announced that it too was suspending funding.

So long as the accusations have not been cleared up, "Germany, in agreement with other donor countries," would for now withhold approval for further resources, said a foreign ministry statement.

- Italy -

Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani said it was joining the ranks of those suspending funding.

It added that "we are committed to providing humanitarian aid to the Palestinian population while protecting Israel's security".

- Japan -

Japan said it was "extremely concerned" and would suspend funding while the allegations were investigated.

A foreign ministry statement said Japan would "continue to make persistent and active diplomatic efforts to improve the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip" and provide "support to other international organisations".

- Netherlands -

Dutch Minister for Trade and Development Geoffrey van Leeuwen announced a freeze in funding for UNRWA while the investigation was ongoing, saying the government was "extremely shocked".

"The accusation is that the attack was committed on October 7 with UN money, with our money," he told public broadcaster NOS.

- New Zealand -

New Zealand Prime Minister Christopher Luxon said his country would pause its annual funding of about NZ$1 million ($613,260) for UNRWA while the allegations, which he described "as incredibly serious", were investigated.

- Sweden -

Sweden, which in 2014 was the first EU member to recognise Palestine as a state, said Tuesday that it had suspended payments to UNRWA "for the time being".

Its Sida aid agency said that funds initially intended for UNRWA in 2024 would "instead be reallocated to other established humanitarian organisations in Palestine and Lebanon".

- Switzerland -

Switzerland has made annual contributions of around 20 million Swiss francs ($23 million) to the UNRWA.

A foreign ministry statement said no decision would be taken on the 2024 payment until the accusations were clarified, saying Switzerland had "zero tolerance for all forms of support for terrorism".

- United States -

The US State Department suspended payments and welcomed the UN's announcement of an investigation into the allegations.

It called for "complete accountability for anyone who participated in the heinous attacks".

It also underlined that "UNRWA plays a critical role in providing lifesaving assistance to Palestinians, including essential food, medicine, shelter, and other vital humanitarian support".

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