(Issue 7th Feb 2024) As an Irish aid agency, committed to reducing suffering and improving people's lives across the world, we are profoundly concerned by the decision last week, of sixteen donor countries, to suspend US$ 440 million funding to UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency).
UNRWA, established in 1949, plays a crucial role and is the leading provider of aid and protection for six million registered Palestinian refugees living within and outside Palestine, in the Gaza Strip, West Bank (including East Jerusalem), Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. UNRWA’s services across this vast region encompass education, health care, relief, and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, microfinance, and emergency assistance. There is no alternative in terms of access and infrastructure to UNRWA at present.
This decision is especially perilous given the colossal needs of over two million people in Gaza. Recent international media reports depict tens of thousands of people (including UNRWA staff) fleeing south due to relentless bombardment and fighting in Khan Younis. This adds to the intense challenges faced by more than 1.4 million people already crammed in the southern governorate of Rafah.
Over one million displaced Palestinians are taking shelter in or around 154 UNRWA shelters, and thousands of others are living in other overcrowded makeshift structures, tents, or out in the open. The looming fear that they might no longer receive any food or other humanitarian assistance from UNRWA, which provides the backbone of humanitarian aid operations and enables their sheer survival, intensifies their plight.
Addressing serious and concerning allegations by Israeli authorities that some UNRWA staff engaged in the abhorrent attacks on Israel on 7th Oct 2023, UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini promptly terminated the appointment of these staff, and an investigation was launched by the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services in New York. Unfortunately, the subsequent suspension of funding by donor countries followed this announcement.
Expressing deep concern over the funding suspension to UNRWA, Lorraine Marriott, GOAL’s Middle East Regional Director, said,
“As the war in Gaza is being pursued unabated, and at the time the International Court of Justice calls for more humanitarian assistance, it is the time to reinforce and not to weaken UNRWA. The Agency remains the largest aid organization in one of the most severe and complex humanitarian crises in the world. In GOAL, we echo the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres’s call to resume funding to UNRWA, and we fully support the Irish Government, which has no plans to suspend its funding to UNWRA. If, however, the funding remains suspended, UNRWA operations will most likely grind to a halt by the end of February not only in Gaza but also across the region.”
Colin Lee, GOAL’s Programme Operations Director, also spoke out on the suspension of funding to UNRWA,
“We must look back to World War II to see comparable cases in terms of the speed, scale, and determination with the enforcement of this siege and the destruction of essential objects and infrastructure to survive. Everyone in Gaza needs immediate, sustained, assistance and protection and UNRWA is the largest humanitarian agency in the region of Gaza, and their delivery of humanitarian assistance cannot be replaced by other agencies working in Gaza. If the funding suspensions are not reversed, we may witness a complete collapse of the already restricted humanitarian response in Gaza.”
‘UNRWA and associated aid organizations also continue to operate in near-impossible circumstances to provide food, vaccinations, and freshwater. We urge donor nations to reaffirm support for the vital work that UNRWA and its partners do in helping Palestinians survive one of the worst humanitarian catastrophes of our times. Countries must reverse these funding suspensions, uphold their duties towards the Palestinian people and scale up humanitarian assistance for civilians in dire need in Gaza and the region’ continued Colin Lee.