Netherlands suspends $14 million grant to UNRWA amid ethics probe

Netherlands suspends $14 million grant to UNRWA amid ethics probe

Move follows Swiss decision to stop payments until investigation into Palestinian refugee agency is completed

A Palestinian woman attends a demonstration outside the outside UNRWA's Headquarters in Gaza City, August 16, 2015. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
A Palestinian woman attends a demonstration outside the outside UNRWA's Headquarters in Gaza City, August 16, 2015. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

The Netherlands suspended its contribution Wednesday to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees pending the outcome of a probe into alleged mismanagement and abuses of authority by the agency’s top management.

UN investigators have opened an inquiry after an internal report alleged “serious ethical abuses” at the highest level at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).

As one of the agency’s main European donors, the Netherlands “expressed… its great concern and asked for clarification,” the Dutch foreign ministry said in a statement.

Sigrid Kaag, foreign trade and development cooperation minister, “would like to hear what steps the UN plans to take based on the outcome of the investigation,” it added. Therefore “Minister Kaag has decided to put this year’s contribution on hold until we have received a satisfactory response from the UN in New York.”

Pierre Krähenbul, Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine (UNRWA), speaks at a press conference in Gaza City on May 23, 2019. (Mohammed Abed/AFP)

The Netherlands is UNRWA’s fourth-largest EU donor country and planned to contribute 13 million euros ($14.4 million) this year. The Dutch government “is also in consultation with other donors,” the ministry said, without giving further details.

UNRWA was set up in the years after more than 700,000 Palestinians were expelled or fled during the 1948 war surrounding the creation of Israel. It provides vital schooling and medical services to millions of impoverished refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and the Palestinian territories.

Senior management at UNRWA engaged in “sexual misconduct, nepotism, retaliation, discrimination and other abuses of authority for personal gain,” said the report, a copy of which was obtained by AFP. The report alleged that UNRWA’s top official, Commissioner-General Pierre Krahenbuhl, was involved in a relationship with his senior ad visor, appointed in 2015 after an “extreme fast-track” process.

UNRWA said it was cooperating fully with the investigation, while Krahenbuhl, in a statement to AFP said “if the current investigation… were to present findings that require corrective measures or other management actions, we will not hesitate to make them.”

A Palestinian worker checks a truck carrying United Nations Relief and Work Agency (UNRWA) aid supplies that arrived through the Kerem Shalom crossing from Israel to the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah on May 12, 2019. (Said Khatib/AFP)

The Dutch decision comes a day after a similar move by Switzerland, which said it would suspend additional contributions pending the findings of United Nations investigators who are examining the ethics report. The Swiss foreign ministry told AFP in an email that it had already made its annual contribution of 22.3 million Swiss francs ($22.5 million) to UNRWA.

Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations on Tuesday appealed to the international community to defund UNRWA in the wake of the ethics report.

“The report reveals alarming, but not surprising, findings. In addition to propagating false information about its refugee population, UNRWA has in recent years worked to redirect world funds to continue this corruption industry that has served its leadership,” said Ambassador Danny Danon.

“The international community, which generously finances UNRWA, must immediately suspend the budgets assigned to the agency. The aid money should be gradually transferred to the UNHCR (UN High Commissioner for Refugees), instead of helping the UNRWA leadership continue engaging in a series of ethical offenses,” the Israeli diplomat added.

The agency has faced financial shortfalls since the United States decided to stop funding its activities late last year.

US President Donald Trump’s administration, along with Israel, accuse UNRWA of perpetuating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by extending refugee status to millions of descendants of Palestinians who fled or were forced out of homes in today’s Israel at the time of the establishment of the Jewish state in 1948, rather than limiting refugee status only to the original refugees as is the norm with most refugee populations worldwide.

The agency disputes that and says the vital services it provides would otherwise not be available to Palestinians who benefit from them.

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