UN agencies rally around agency for Palestinian refugees in Gaza

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  • U.N. organizations have issued a joint warning about the consequences for Gaza’s people if key donor nations don’t resume funding for the UN agency aiding refugees.
  • The U.S. and over a dozen other countries plan to suspend contributions to the agency.
  • The agency faces the possibility of ceasing operations by February’s end without restored funding.

An array of U.N. organizations have united to warn of “catastrophic consequences for the people of Gaza ” if key donor countries don’t resume funding for the U.N. 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 12 of its thousands of workers participated in the Oct. 7 attacks in Israel that sparked the war in Gaza.

U.N. 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.”

Palestinians carry a a body

Palestinians carry a a body of a person killed in the Israeli bombardment at a building of an UNRWA vocational training center which displaced people use as a shelter in Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip, on Jan. 24, 2024. U.N. organizations have united to warn of “catastrophic consequences for the people of Gaza” if key donor countries don’t resume funding. (AP Photo/Ramez Habboub)

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“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.”

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

U.N. 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, U.S. 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 U.N. humanitarian agency emphasized at a U.N. briefing in Geneva that UNRWA is “irreplaceable in the humanitarian operation.”


Jan Egeland, former head of the U.N. humanitarian agency and secretary-general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, said it was “telling” that U.N. 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.”

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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.

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