Former New Zealand Leader Calls For Reinstatement Of UNRWA Funding

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Former New Zealand Prime Minister, Helen Clark has urged Australia and other western countries to reinstate funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) to avoid “a very, very harsh, collective punishment of the Gazan people.”

Over the weekend, more than 10 donor countries – including Australia, the U.S and the UK suspended funding to the UN agency after Israel provided the agency with information alleging that as many as 12 of its staff were involved in Hamas’ October 7 attack on southern Israel.

Clark said that given the allegations related to 12 people out of a UNRWA workforce of 13,000, the decision to suspend aid funding was “completely disproportionate.”

She said that the UNRWA chief had “immediately dismissed the nine people of the 12 that he could find – one is dead and two others are untraced.”

Clark, who is also a former administrator of the UN development program, argued that the UN had “acted very, very quickly” to deal with the allegations.

“That’s why the suspension of aid by Australia, the US and others seems a very, very harsh, collective punishment of the Gazan people at this point and I think needs to be reconsidered.

Helen Clark
Also, Clark said the suspension could have a “catastrophic” impact because UNRWA was the biggest deliverer of services, including emergency relief, in Gaza.

“If UNRWA is crippled financially it has devastating impacts for the families living in Gaza,” she said.

The UN Secretary-General, António Guterres appealed to the donor countries on Sunday.

He urged that the agency and Palestinians in desperate need should not be penalised due to the alleged acts of a dozen staff.

Guterres said the loss of funding meant the UN could not guarantee aid into Gaza for the whole of this month.

“Two million civilians in Gaza depend on critical assistance from UNRWA for their daily survival, but current UNRWA funding will not allow it to meet all needs in February,” he said.

UNRWA Commissioner-General, Philippe Lazzarini said, “Our humanitarian operation, on which 2 million people depend as a lifeline in Gaza, is collapsing. I am shocked such decisions are taken based on alleged behaviour of a few individuals and as the war continues, needs are deepening and famine looms. Palestinians in Gaza did not need this additional collective punishment. This stains all of us.”

UNRWA is an unusual agency in that it does not have large assets and runs a hand-to-mouth operation, even though it covers five countries and employs 40,000 staff, including 13,000 in Gaza.

Sadly, Israel’s foreign ministry has vowed that UNRWA will play no role in Gaza when the conflict ends.

‘Excessive delays’ at Israeli checkpoints preventing aid to northern Gaza
Moreover, UN’s humanitarian agency in the occupied Palestinian Territories (OCHA oPt) said in its latest update that eight planned UN missions to northern Gaza have successfully gone ahead since the beginning of January.

OCHA said 29 aid convoys were denied permission by Israeli authorities this month, while other deliveries were impeded by “excessive delays” at Israeli checkpoints and threats to the safety of aid workers.

In particular, the UN said deliveries to hospitals and water and sanitation facilities north of the Wadi Gaza river were “largely denied.”

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