Tuesday

27th Feb 2024

Handful of EU states plus Norway will keep funding UNRWA

  • An Israeli dossier presents allegations over the involvement of 12 UNRWA staff in the 7 October attacks. UNRWA has over 30,000 employees. (Photo: Kai Hendry)
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The EU Commission is reevaluating its funding to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) in light of allegations of 12 staff involvement in the 7 October attack, but Belgium, Ireland, Denmark, and Spain, the most critical voices of Israel in the 27-nation bloc, will continue their funding.

The EU decision comes after several countries — including the US, the UK, Switzerland, Japan and several EU member states — suspended their support to the biggest UN agency operating in Gaza.

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Germany, Austria, France, Italy, and the Netherlands rapidly suspended funds after the allegations emerged on Friday.

In 2023, Ireland provided the UNRWA €18m and Spain €18.5m. In 2022, Belgium provided the UN agency with €13.5m.

"Especially now, life-saving humanitarian aid must continue to reach civilians in Gaza/Palestinian areas, with UNRWA playing a vital role," said Belgian minister of development Caroline Gennez.

Norway has also decided to continue its funding, pointing out that it is important to distinguish "between what individuals may have done, and what UNRWA stands for."

"We cannot collectively punish all the people who are refugees or being internally displaced," Norwegian foreign affairs minister Espen Barth Eide said, urging other countries to continue funding UNRWA.

Denmark is also not withdrawing the support until the case has been fully investigated, Danish development minister Dan Jørgensen told national media.

It is "shocking" to see countries suspending funds to the agency in reaction to allegations against "a small group of staff," said UNRWA's head Philippe Lazzarini. "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."

An Israeli dossier, shared with the US, presents allegations against 12 UNRWA staff, including nine teachers, who were allegedly involved in the 7 October attacks where Hamas killed some 1,200 Israelis and took around 200 hostages.

UNRWA has over 30,000 employees.

"UNRWA stands for perpetuating the Palestinian refugee crisis instead of solving it … In doing so, it nurtures extremist violence and has blood on its hands," Israel spokesperson Eylon Levy said on X, formerly Twitter.

EU audit

The EU on Monday (29 January) called on UNRWA to agree to "an audit of the agency to be conducted by EU-appointed independent external experts" to make sure there are proper systems in place to stop staff from being involved in terrorism.

It also said that no additional funding to UNRWA is foreseen until the end of February.

When asked about the implications of such a decision, the commission chief spokesperson Eric Mamer said it is "impossible" to conclude "the exact timeline for the audit … and whether it will be completed before the next payments are due".

Nevertheless, the EU executive also said that humanitarian aid to Gaza and the West Bank will "continue unabated" through partner organisations.

UNRWA announced last Friday that it will launch its own investigation. Friday was the day the International Court of Justice in The Hague ruled against Israel, and for South Africa, that Israel must immediately do everything in its power to halt Palestinian deaths in Gaza, in the two countries ongoing case for and against a "genocide."

"In the light of the provisional measures ordered by the International Court of Justice, reinforcing UNRWA's work seems even more crucial to the daily survival of the Palestinian people," said Spanish MEP Manu Pineda from The Left and president of the parliament's delegation for relations with Palestine.

The EU commission has welcomed the probe while calling for a review of all UNRWA staff "to be launched soonest to confirm that they did not participate in the attacks".

The EU is one of UNRWA's biggest donors. From 2021 to 2023, it is estimated that the EU provided about €281m to the UN agency.

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