Australia joins nations resuming UNRWA funding amid starvation fears in Gaza

Paused funding of $4 million will be released immediately, says Foreign Minister Penny Wong

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong said UNRWA was vital to helping starving families and children in Gaza. EPA
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Australia will restore its funding to UNRWA, weeks after the UN relief agency for Palestinian refugees lost hundreds of millions of dollars in support following Israeli allegations that some of its Gaza-based staff participated in the October 7 attack.

Paused funding of 6 million Australian dollars (US$3.9 million) would be released immediately and additional safeguards would protect aid money, Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong said.

“We have children and families that are starving and we have a capacity along with the international community to assist them,” Ms Wong told a news conference in Sydney on Friday. “We know that UNRWA is central and vital to delivering that assistance.”

The government had consulted UNRWA and other donors and was satisfied the aid agency was not a terror organisation, she said.

Australia, alongside 15 international partners, froze funding to UNRWA in January, leaving the agency on the brink of financial collapse.

“Withdrawing financial support from UNRWA as the Palestinians suffer a catastrophe larger than that of 1948 is unjustifiable,” former Lebanese prime minister Fouad Siniora said in an Opinion column in The National. “Defunding UNRWA is neither ethical, moral, or politically warranted.”

UNRWA head Philippe Lazzarini said last week that he was cautiously optimistic other donors would resume funding soon.

Ireland pledged €20 million in additional support for the relief agency last week.

Israel has accused about a dozen UNRWA employees of taking part in the Hamas attack on southern Israel, which killed around 1,200 Israelis, with a further 240 kidnapped.

Israel's accusations prompted major donors including the US, UK, Germany and Japan to suspend funding to the agency in late January.

The UN launched an investigation into the allegations, and UNRWA fired some staff after Israel provided it with information on the allegations.

UNRWA rejected Israel's accusations that the agency had employed “terrorists” and has accused Israel of waging a “deliberate and concerted” campaign to undermine its operations in Gaza and ultimately prevent it from providing vital services to Palestinians in the future.

Move follows Sweden, Canada and EU

Australia has followed Sweden, Canada and the European Union in resuming funding to UNRWA.

The agency is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions from UN member states.

Since the start of Israel's ground offensive in Gaza, the agency has provided aid and used its facilities to shelter Palestinians fleeing bombardment.

The latest available ranking of pledges on the agency's website shows that in 2022, the EU was the third biggest donor with close to $115 million.

At $343 million, the US was the agency's most important donor, followed by Germany, at $202 million.

Warehouses in Egyptian city bursting at seams as Gaza aid piles up

Warehouses in Egyptian city bursting at seams as Gaza aid piles up

The pledges towards UNRWA's programmes in 2022 listed 58 countries and international entities including the EU and the UN.

UNRWA was established in 1949 by the UN General Assembly. Its mandate is to provide assistance and protection for some 5.7 million registered Palestinian refugees in the Middle East, including in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the Gaza strip, and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

Before the conflict started, Gaza relied on 500 aid lorries entering daily. UNRWA said that in February an average around 97 lorries could enter Gaza each day, compared with about 150 daily in January.

Hamas' October 7 attack sparked Israel’s retaliatory invasion of Gaza that has killed more than 31,300, according to local health officials, and left much of the enclave in ruins, displacing some 80 per cent of its 2.3 million people.

Updated: April 09, 2024, 10:50 AM