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UNRWA Faces Funding Crisis As Countries Suspend Support Amid Allegations Of Staff Involvement In Hamas Attack

With funding suspended, the humanitarian agency for Palestinian refugees is likely to run out of money past February.

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Palestinians, who left their homes and took refuge in Rafah city under hard conditions, carry the flour they received from UNRWA. Photo: Getty Images
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Several major contributors to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) have suspended their funding to the humanitarian agency for Palestinian refugees, following allegations that UNRWA staff was involved in the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel.

An Israeli document obtained on Monday detailed allegations against 12 UNRWA staff who were found to be associated with Hamas' October 7 assault. According to the document, seven of them crossed into Israeli territory, with one involved in a kidnapping and another assisting in stealing a soldier's body, Associated Press reported.

The United Nations on Saturday said it had terminated the contracts of the nine out of the 12 accused staff while two remained missing and one was dead. An investigation is also underway.

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“The Secretary-General is personally horrified by the accusations against employees of UNRWA, but his message to donors, especially those who have suspended their contributions is to at least guarantee the continuity of UNRWA’s operations, as we have tens of thousands of dedicated staff working throughout the region,” spokesperson for the Secretary-General Stéphane Dujarric said in Monday’s press briefing.

With funding suspended, the UNRWA is likely to run out of money past February, Dujarric said.

What is UNRWA?

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) is a specialised UN agency that provides humanitarian aid, relief, and development assistance to Palestinian refugees.

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It was established after the 1948 Palestine war to carry out direct relief works and programmes for Palestine refugees. The agency began operations on May 1, 1950. The UN agency operates in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria—regions where Palestinian refugees sought refuge after the Nakba, their violent expulsion.

The UNRWA runs almost entirely on contributions by UN member countries and receives some funding from the Regular Budget of the United Nations. 

In 2022, the European Union and other government partners represented 94.9 per cent of all contributions. 

The European Union and other government partners, which represented 94.9 per cent of all contributions in 2022. 44.3 per cent of the agency’s total pledges of US$ 1.17 billion came from EU member states, who contributed US$ 520.3 million, including through the European Commission. The United States, Germany, the EU, and Sweden were the largest individual donors, contributing a combined total of 61.4 per cent of the agency’s overall funding.

Which countries have suspended funding?

The suspension of funding began with the United States on Friday, immediately following the announcement of the investigation. As of Monday, Canada, Australia, Britain, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Finland, Estonia, Japan, Austria, and Romania have also joined in withholding their contributions.

The European Union said it would make “upcoming funding decisions in light of the outcome of the investigation”.

Turkey expressed concerns over the funding suspension and how it was going to affect the Palestinians dependent on the UNRWA aid. While Spain Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares said that “only a dozen of the 30,000” UNRWA employees had been accused of crimes.

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Ireland said it had no plans of suspending the funding.

UNRWA’s humaintarian response to ongoing war on Gaza

UNRWA has served as a lifeline for Palestinian civilians since the war began on October 7. The agency has issued multiple flash appeals for aid in Gaza and consistently called for a humanitarian ceasefire.

Deploying additional staff to the region, UNRWA has reported on the worsening conditions in Gaza. Over the past three and a half months, the agency has supplied displaced Palestinians with essential items such as food, water, shelter, and hygiene products, establishing itself as a key player in aid reception and storage in the Gaza Strip.

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Furthermore, UNRWA has been instrumental in delivering life-saving mental health and psychosocial support to children in Gaza. The organisation has actively participated in and organised international conferences, aiming to shed light on the ground realities, appeal for funds, and advocate for a ceasefire.

With the funding suspended the agency is now at its breaking point.

The Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Martin Griffiths, said that the people of Gaza have been enduring unthinkable horrors and deprivation for months.

“We need to be at full stretch to give the people of Gaza a moment of hope.  Now is not the time to let them down,” he said.

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Over 26,000 people have been killed so far and more than 65,000 injured as Israel’s war on Gaza continues.

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