Switzerland resumes funding of UN’s Palestinian aid agency
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Switzerland resumes funding of UN’s Palestinian aid agency

Move comes after United Nations probe into alleged wrongdoing by UNRWA management clears organization of mismanaging donor funds

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)
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)

GENEVA — Switzerland said Friday it had resumed payments to the UN’s embattled agency for Palestinian refugees after a UN probe cleared the organization of allegations of mismanaging funds.

Switzerland was among a number of countries that halted their contributions to UNRWA earlier this year amid suspicions that the organization had misused donor funds.

The organization also faced allegations of “serious ethical abuses” by the management, including its then chief, Pierre Krahenbuhl, a Swiss citizen who resigned last month.

In early November, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres released a statement saying the preliminary findings of an internal UN probe found no “fraud or misappropriation of operational funds” by Krahenbuhl.

“There are, however, managerial issues that need to be addressed,” his statement said.

An internal ethics report has alleged senior management engaging in “sexual misconduct, nepotism, retaliation, discrimination and other abuses of authority, for personal gain, to suppress legitimate dissent, and to otherwise achieve their personal objectives.”

Pierre Krahenbuhl, former commissioner-general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), attends a ceremony to mark the start of the school year at a UNRWA school in Palestinian refugee camp Al-Wehdat, in Amman, Jordan, September 2, 2018. (AP Photo/Raad Adayleh)

The Swiss foreign ministry told AFP in an email Friday that Guterres had confirmed in a letter sent to Bern on December 3 that “the probe uncovered no evidence of misappropriation of funds.”

The ministry also highlighted reforms put in place by UNRWA to better manage donor funds.

“Taking into account the measures taken and the confirmation from the UN Secretary-General that no donor funds had been misappropriated, [Switzerland] has decided to resume its payments to UNRWA,” it said.

Before halting its payments to the agency, Switzerland had already dished out 25 million Swiss francs ($25.4 million) in 2019.

In 2018, the wealthy Alpine nation provided the organization with funds of 26 million francs.

Even before the accusations of misappropriation emerged, UNRWA faced a severe funding crunch, after US President Donald Trump decided last year to suspend, then yank entirely his country’s contribution to the agency’s budget, robbing it of its top donor.

Trump’s administration, along with Israel, accuses UNRWA of perpetuating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Jerusalem criticizes the agency’s practice of extending refugee status to millions of descendants, rather than the status only to the original refugees as is the norm with most refugee populations worldwide.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres gives a press conference at the ‘IFEMA – Feria de Madrid’ exhibition center in Madrid on December 1, 2019, on the eve of the opening of the UN Climate Change Conference COP25. (Cristina Quicler/AFP)

The agency says the services it provides would otherwise not be available to Palestinians.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry said the reports on alleged mismanagement at UNRWA lent credence to its criticism of the agency and called for a full release of the probe’s findings.

UNRWA was set up in the years after more than 700,000 Palestinians were expelled or fled their lands during the 1948 war surrounding the creation of Israel.

It provides schooling and medical services to millions of impoverished refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria as well as the Palestinian territories, and employs around 30,000 people, mostly Palestinians.

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