Donor countries halt funding to UN agency in Gaza

Donor countries halt funding to UN agency in Gaza
Donor countries halt funding to UN agency in Gaza

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - Palestinian refugees carry food aid they received from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) on April 24, 2008 in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip. — AFP pic

PARIS, Jan 29 — Several 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’ October 7 attack.

The UNRWA has fired several people and promised a thorough investigation into the claims, which were not specified, 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, but also pleaded for donor states to “guarantee the continuity” of the agency for the sake of “the desperate populations” it serves.

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The United States said Friday 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”.

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“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 €5 million (US$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 against UNRWA staff members were investigated.

“At the same time, Japan will continue to make persistent and active diplomatic efforts to improve the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip and to calm down the situation as soon as possible by providing support to other international organisations,” a foreign ministry statement said.

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.

Norway

Norway said it would maintain its funding in order not to “collectively punish millions of people”.

“While I share the concern over the very serious allegations concerning some UNRWA staff, I urge other donors to reflect on the wider consequences of reducing UNRWA’s funding at this time of extreme humanitarian distress,” Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide said in a statement.

Switzerland

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

A foreign ministry statement said no decision would be taken on the 2024 payment until the accusations were clarified.

“Switzerland has zero tolerance for all forms of support for terrorism, and for calls to hatred or incitement to violence,” it added.

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”. — AFP

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