UN agencies issue joint statement calling on donors to resume UNRWA funding

After allegations that staffers of UN agency in Gaza took part in Oct. 7 onslaught, heads of WHO, World Food Program, UNICEF and others say ‘no other entity’ can replace aid body

Palestinians demonstrate in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip calling for continued international support to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), January 30, 2024. (AFP)
Palestinians demonstrate in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip calling for continued international support to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), January 30, 2024. (AFP)

GENEVA — An array of UN organizations have united to warn of “catastrophic consequences for the people of Gaza” if key donor countries don’t resume funding for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, the main lifeline for people in the besieged territory.

The United States and more than a dozen other countries have announced plans to suspend contributions to the agency, known as UNRWA, after Israel alleged that at least 12 of its thousands of workers took part in Hamas’s Oct. 7 murderous onslaught against southern Israel.

UN officials fired most of the workers and vowed an investigation.

The heads of the World Health Organization, World Food Program, UNICEF, International Organization for Migration and other agencies and partners said the allegations were “horrifying.”

“However, we must not prevent an entire organization from delivering on its mandate to serve people in desperate need,” the joint statement said. “No other entity has the capacity to deliver the scale and breadth of assistance that 2.2 million people in Gaza urgently need.”

UN officials have warned that UNRWA will have to halt operations by the end of February if funding is not restored.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks during a Security Council meeting regarding the Israel-Hamas war at the UN headquarters in New York on January 23, 2024. (Charly Triballeau/AFP)

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appealed to 35 donor nations in a closed-door meeting on Tuesday and sought new support as well.

The allegations against UNRWA staffers are among the most scathing yet to dent the image of the sprawling world body and its affiliates after scandals ranging from breakdowns in peacekeeping to sexual abuse in places like Congo.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, US ambassador to the United Nations in New York, acknowledged Tuesday that UNRWA plays “a critical role in providing life-saving assistance to Palestinians,” but said “we need to see fundamental changes before we can resume providing funding directly” to the organization.

Earlier Tuesday, spokesman Jens Laerke with the UN humanitarian agency emphasized at a UN briefing in Geneva that UNRWA is “irreplaceable in the humanitarian operation.”

A worker rests as displaced Palestinians receive food aid at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) center in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on January 28, 2024. (AFP)

Jan Egeland, former head of the UN humanitarian agency and secretary-general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, said it was “telling” that UN bodies and nongovernmental organizations agree that defunding UNRWA “means a collapse of humanitarian work among Palestinian women and children in their hour of greatest need — when they’re under this relentless, indiscriminate bombardment and when there is so little capacity for humanitarian relief.”

In an interview, Egeland said “UNRWA did everything right” in response to Israel’s allegations about the UNRWA employees’ involvement in the “horrendous attack.”

“They fired these people. On these mere allegations, they’ve initiated an independent investigation of everything surrounding that potential betrayal of all of our ideals by a small group of employees in the organization,” he said.

The 12 staffers at UNRWA alleged to have been involved in the October 7 onslaught. (Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

A dossier purportedly disseminated by Israel alleges that 12 employees of the UN agency took part in the deadly onslaught in which terrorists murdered close to 1,200 Israelis and took another 253 captive in Gaza. The allegations claim that one of the 12 men implicated was an UNRWA teacher accused of being armed with an anti-tank missile, while another teacher had been accused of filming a hostage being taken captive during the onslaught.

Another of the staffers, also an elementary school teacher, allegedly served as a Hamas commander and participated in the massacre in Kibbutz Be’eri, while a man employed by UNRWA as a social worker was allegedly involved in the kidnapping of an IDF soldier’s body on that day.

Of the 12 UNRWA workers accused of participating in the October 7 massacre, seven were reportedly teachers, two were educational consultants and others were humanitarian aid warehouse managers.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Tuesday that the allegations against those individuals are “highly, highly credible.”

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