9 nations stop funds to UNRWA, deepening Gaza humanitarian crisis

The UK, the US, Canada, Australia, Netherlands, Finland, Italy, Switzerland and Germany have suspended funding to the UN aid agency for Palestinian refugees

The UNRWA serves to support the relief and human development of Palestinian refugees (photo: IANS)
The UNRWA serves to support the relief and human development of Palestinian refugees (photo: IANS)

Mohua G.

Britain, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Finland on Saturday, 27 January, joined the United States, Australia and Canada in pausing funding for the UN Refugee Agency for Palestinians (UNRWA), following allegations that some of its staff were involved in the 7 October 2023 Hamas attacks on southern Israel, the Xinhua news agency reported.

The UK's foreign, Commonwealth and development office said in the statement on Saturday that the country was "appalled" by the allegations, and the funding for the agency would be halted "whilst we review these concerning allegations".

The US, Canada and Australia had already announced temporary suspension of new funding to the UNRWA before the UK put out its statement.

In a post on X, Israeli foreign minister Israel Katz said, “In Gaza’s rebuilding, @UNRWA must be replaced with agencies dedicated to genuine peace and development.”

Meanwhile, Hussein Al-Sheikh, secretary-general of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), on Saturday urged countries that have announced suspension of support for the UNRWA to reconsider their decisions to avoid a political and humanitarian crisis.

He said on the social media platform X that 'especially at this time, amid the ongoing (Israeli) aggression against the Palestinian people, we are in desperate need of support from this international organisation'.

The UNRWA said on Friday, 26 January, that it had decided to 'immediately terminate the contracts' of the staff members accused and would 'launch an investigation'.

The UNRWA, established as a subsidiary organ of the UN General Assembly in 1949, serves to support the relief and human development of Palestinian refugees and is entrusted with the mission of providing humanitarian assistance and protection to registered Palestinian refugees in the agency's operational areas until a just and lasting solution to their plight is achieved.

At the same time, other countries—either emboldened by South Africa's move or because of their own free thinking—underlined their continued support of the UNRWA.

Norway was one, saying in an X post, in apparent reference to the 'do you condemn Hamas' refrain: 'We need to distinguish between what individuals may have done, and what UNRWA stands for.'

Ireland was one more of those that remained steadfast in support of Gaza.

Irish foreign affairs and military defence minister Michael Martin found himself able to articulate a nuanced position—despite the 'complexity' of West Asian politics that has apparently left larger nations with greater experience of military matters floundering—when he posted in support of the suspension and investigation of UNRWA staff allegedly implicated in the 7 October Hamas attack while also making it clear that his nation would continue its funding to the UN aid organisation:

Despite its allegiance to the UK, now Scotland has followed suit, with First Minister Hamza Yousaf putting out a statement on social media on 28 January that reiterates the Scottish government's continued support to the UNRWA despite its own financial constraints, and calling on other governments to likewise do their part and extend aid to Gaza:

What is notable, perhaps, is not just the overlap between the nations that backed up Israel in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) against South Africa's accusation of genocide, but also the ones that supposedly support the accusor's position yet have nevertheless withdrawn support to the UNRWA.

With inputs from IANS

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