Britain looks set to resume UNRWA funding without missing a payment

UK renewal of financing Palestinian aid organisation is opposed by faction of pro-Israeli Conservative MPs

Palestinian refugees in Beirut. The UK will consider resuming funding for the Palestinian aid organisation after the UN publishes a report on Monday about UNRWA reforms to deal with its links to Hamas. AP
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Britain is likely to end its “pause” of funding to UNRWA but only after the Palestinian refugee agency’s links to Hamas have been addressed, Whitehall sources have said.

The links were alleged by Israel, which has offered no supporting evidence.

The UK was one of 18 countries that in January halted financing for the UN Relief and Works Agency after Israel alleged 12 of its 30,000 staff had taken part in the Hamas-led attacks on October 7. Its contributions were at that time paid in advance, so London has not missed a funding round for the agency.

While Britain had made all its planned contributions of £35 million ($43.1 million) to UNRWA for the last financial year, the government said it would resume funding only after reforms proposed by a UN inquiry have been realised.

Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, on Monday said: "He has agreed with Commissioner General Philippe Lazzarini that UNRWA, with the Secretary General’s support, will establish an action plan to implement the recommendations. Moving forward, the Secretary General appeals to all stakeholders to actively support UNRWA, as it is a lifeline for Palestine refugees in the region."

With the US halting all its aid, which accounts for almost half of the agency’s $880 million budget, until next March at the earliest, a significant funding shortfall remains, with much of Gaza’s population on the brink of famine.


Along with the EU and other nations, Britain suspended its aid after the October 7 links were revealed but while other countries have restored funding the UK has not, in part due to the rear-guard action by some members of the government benches, who do not accept the UN findings.

Whitehall sources have indicated there is a danger funding would be “unpaused” but not immediately reinstated, partly because there is a strong pro-Israeli Conservative MP group which has lobbied hard against the move.

It is understood a forthcoming UN report will feature a number of recommendations to make UNRWA more accountable and transparent.

The organisation has previously said it will provide a list of employees and ID card copies to donor countries.

Since then, the EU and eight countries have restored funding and Britain’s deputy foreign secretary Andrew Mitchell has accepted there is no other organisation in Gaza that can distribute aid.

'Need is great'

While the opposition Labour Party supported the investigation into UNRWA, it has demanded there is “no interruption” of UK funding during the current financial year that began this month.

Afzal Khan, a Labour MP who has argued in Parliament for aid to be restored, told The National UNRWA had “invaluable experience” in Gaza and it had “dealt appropriately” with the Hamas issue.

“Many of the other countries have restored aid, so what is the UK government doing when the need is so great that we're talking about an imminent famine?” he said. “There is no alternative, so the UK government should be getting on with it.”

Regional hub

A leading human rights lawyer has called for the relief agency to expand its remit to incorporate other refugees in the region, including Yazidis, Kurds and Syrians.

“We shouldn't be closing down UN agencies and we definitely want them on the ground,” Prof Rosa Freedman said.

“But UNRWA should look to become a hub for all regional refugees that falls under the mandate of the UN."

There is also the precedent of Britain continuing funding to Syria despite knowing “that in order to get humanitarian aid to the people on the ground, it would have to go through ISIS”, said the University of Reading academic.

Gaza vacuum

Israeli-based analysts said their government was likely to reluctantly accept UNRWA’S role as no other aid agency has the capacity to distribute food where it is urgently needed in Gaza.

“Because of the necessity of humanitarian aid in Gaza, UNRWA is needed as there may be no immediate replacement,” said Richard Pater of the Jerusalem-based Bicom think tank.

“As faulty and problematic as UNRWA is, you can't have a vacuum in Gaza, so until an adequate body is there to replace them, renewing aid might be the calculation of a British government.”

‘Terrible decision’

Human rights organisation Amnesty International told The National it was “really shocked” that Britain had put funding on hold in January.

“We called it a terrible decision at the time and we think, if anything, it is even more imperatively urgent that the funding is reinstated with the deteriorating situation in Gaza,” spokesman Neil Durkin said.

He added Israel’s “continued flouting” of the UN’s and International Criminal Court of Justice’s demand on providing aid since January meant that Britain should resume its funding.

Mr Lazzarini has previously warned dismantling the organisation would “have lasting repercussions” and “accelerate the onset of famine”.

“In the longer term, it will jeopardise the transition from ceasefire to ‘day after’ by depriving a traumatised population of essential services."

Updated: April 22, 2024, 3:08 PM