Austria resumes funding for UNRWA as US and other states keep support frozen

UN experts criticise failure of some states to reinstate funding

A UN-run school is deserted in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. AFP
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Austria has become the latest country to resume funding to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, having suspended its support after Israel accused UNRWA employees of allegedly being involved in the October 7 attacks.

Austria was among major donors, including the EU and US, to suspend funding for UNRWA in January, leaving a total of about $450 million in assistance for UNRWA frozen, despite an independent report finding that Israel had failed to provide any evidence in support of its accusations.

Several countries reinstated funding after the publication of the review of UNRWA, led by former French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna, found the agency had a “robust” approach to neutrality and made minor recommendations for reforms.

"After analysing the action plan in detail" submitted by UNRWA "to improve the functioning of the organisation", Austria has decided to "release the funds," Austria's foreign ministry said in a statement on Saturday.

Austria has budgeted around $3.7 million for this year to UNRWA with the first payment expected to be released in the summer, the statement said.

"Some of the Austrian funds will be used in the future to improve internal control mechanisms at UNRWA," it added.

Austria said it will "closely monitor" the implementation of the action plan with other international partners, noting that "a lot of trust had been squandered".

Since October 7, Austria said it has increased support for the suffering Palestinian population in Gaza and the region, making a contribution of $34.8 million in humanitarian assistance.

Austria is the latest country to reinstate funding for UNRWA, joining Australia, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Japan, Sweden and the European Union.

The US, which contributed $343.9 million, has yet to unfreeze its funds. The UK ($21.2m), Switzerland ($25.5m), Italy ($18m), New Zealand ($560,000), Romania ($210,000), and Estonia ($90,000) are also yet to unfreeze their assistance to UNRWA.

On Friday, a number of UN Special Rapporteurs, referred to as experts, said in a statement that they are "disappointed" that some states had yet to reinstate their support for UNRWA.

“The independent review ordered by the UN Secretary-General, following an increase of allegations since the onset of the military assault on Gaza in October 2023, has shown that the claim that significant numbers of UNRWA employees have ties with ‘terrorist organisations’ remains unsubstantiated,” the experts said.

UNWA had been a political target, the experts said, adding that UN staff have been verbally and physically attacked for the past several months.

The pause of funding, the experts said, has "already severely curtailed the agency's operations in Gaza", for 2.2 million people in urgent need.

Updated: May 18, 2024, 12:53 PM