28th 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)
Listen to article

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.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Get the EU news that really matters

Instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

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.


Seven ways Gaza conflict gets misreported in Europe

Journalists covering Gaza from afar face limited access, contested facts, lobby pressure and a power imbalance. But when they let these distort their coverage, it ceases to reflect reality and start to shape it, in unintended ways.


The ICJ has spoken — the EU must listen and change course

The EU is divided. Foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has rightly favoured a more pro-human rights course, as have Spain, Ireland and Belgium, while Germany has looked the other way in the face of manifest violations of international humanitarian law.

EU commission silent on Israeli evidence into UNRWA

Asked if they had received any evidence from the Israelis, the European Commission skirted the question. Instead, they said it is up to Israel to communicate if and with whom they shared the evidence.


Call Norway's deep-sea Arctic mining what it is — ecocide

Norway's recent decision to greenlight deep-sea mining plans in the Arctic has sent shockwaves through the world. This decision gives Norway the dubious honour of being the first European country to set out a procedure on deep-sea mining.


For Ukraine's sake, pass the EU due diligence directive

The EU Commission's 2022 CSDDD proposal did not include provisions incorporating "conflict due diligence", they were added, after the Russian invasion, by the European Parliament and Council into the final directive text — for Ukraine's sake, vote for it.

Latest News

  1. Macron on Western boots in Ukraine: What he really meant
  2. Amazon lobbyists banned from EU Parliament
  3. MEPs adopt new transparency rules for political ads
  4. EU nature restoration law approved after massive backlash
  5. Memo from Munich — EU needs to reinvent democracy support
  6. For Ukraine's sake, pass the EU due diligence directive
  7. All of Orbán's MPs back Sweden's Nato entry
  8. India makes first objection to EU carbon levy at WTO summit

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic Food Systems Takeover at COP28
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersHow women and men are affected differently by climate policy
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersArtist Jessie Kleemann at Nordic pavilion during UN climate summit COP28
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP28: Gathering Nordic and global experts to put food and health on the agenda
  5. Friedrich Naumann FoundationPoems of Liberty – Call for Submission “Human Rights in Inhume War”: 250€ honorary fee for selected poems
  6. World BankWorld Bank report: How to create a future where the rewards of technology benefit all levels of society?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsThis autumn Europalia arts festival is all about GEORGIA!
  2. UNOPSFostering health system resilience in fragile and conflict-affected countries
  3. European Citizen's InitiativeThe European Commission launches the ‘ImagineEU’ competition for secondary school students in the EU.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region is stepping up its efforts to reduce food waste
  5. UNOPSUNOPS begins works under EU-funded project to repair schools in Ukraine
  6. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsGeorgia effectively prevents sanctions evasion against Russia – confirm EU, UK, USA

Join EUobserver

EU news that matters

Join us