Cutting UN funds to Gaza puts 'hundreds of thousands' at risk, says EU

Europe  AP - Virginia Mayo
FEB 5, 2024 LISTEN
© AP - Virginia Mayo

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has warned that moves to suspend the funding of UN Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA were extremely ill-advised.

Speaking on Sunday, Borrell said: "Defunding UNRWA would be both disproportionate and dangerous," referring to the UN agency which is embroiled in controversy over the alleged involvement of employees in the 7 October attack by Hamas on Israel.

"While some important donors suspended funding, there is a wide recognition that UNRWA is central to providing vital aid to more than 1.1 million people in Gaza suffering from catastrophic hunger and the outbreak of diseases."

"Defunding the agency would put hundreds of thousands of lives at risk," Borrell stressed.

Investigation into UNRWA underway

He added in a blog article that "the agency has taken immediate steps and launched an investigation," calling the allegations serious and which should not go unpunished if true.

His comments come with more than a dozen countries – including major donors the United States, Germany, Britain and Sweden – having suspended funding to UNRWA over accusations that 12 staff members were involved in the 7 October attack.

The agency – which has received a Norwegian nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize – has warned it will have to cease operations by the end of the month should funding be significantly pulled.

Late last month, the EU requested an audit of UNRWA, and said will review future funding in light of a UN investigation already being carried out into the claims.

Borrell said he was convinced the inquiry would be completed before the launch of an independent external investigation ahead of the next payment from the European Commission due at month's end.

Borrell added that the total of suspended funds currently amounts to "more than $440 million, or around half the agency's expected funds for 2024."

He warned such a shortfall called into danger the agency's very existence.

Spain, Portugal send emergency aid

Meanwhile, Spain has said it will send the UNRWA an additional €3.5 million in aid, despite the suspension of support for the UN agency.

Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares said Monday: "UNRWA's situation is desperate and there is a serious risk that its humanitarian activities will be paralysed in Gaza within a few weeks."

Madrid contributed €18.5 million directly to UNRWA in 2023, including €10 million approved in December following the decision to triple development and humanitarian aid to the Palestinian territories.

On Friday, neighbouring Portugal announced additional aid to UNRWA worth one million euros. Foreign Minister Joao Cravinho wrote on social media it was essential "not to turn our backs on the Palestinian population at this difficult time".