Norway set to release $26m for UNRWA as it warns there is no 'plan B'

This is not the time to halt funding for UNRWA, Norwegian Foreign Affairs Minister Espen Barth Eide tells The National

Norwegian Foreign Affairs Minister Espen Barth Eide says there is desperate need for more aid in Gaza. Photo: Norwegian News Agency
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Norway is set to transfer about $26 million to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, Foreign Affairs Minister Espen Barth Eide told The National, as he warned there is no “plan B” if the UNRWA collapses due to major donors freezing funds.

“There is a desperate need for more, not less, humanitarian aid to Gaza,” said Mr Eide.

“We should not collectively punish millions of people for the deeds of a few.”

Some of UNRWA's largest donors have frozen funding after the agency said last week it would launch an investigation into Israeli claims that about 12 of its 13,000 employees had participated in the Hamas-led October 7 attacks against Israel.

The attacks, which killed about 1,200 people, sparked a retaliatory Israeli military operation in Gaza during which more than 27,000 Palestinians have died. It has been described by senior UN officials as the worst crisis they have seen.

Norway is among a handful of UNRWA donors that have pushed back against pressure to stop supporting the agency. The NOK 275 million about to released represent Norway's annual contribution to UNRWA. Last year, transfers from Norway totalled about $34 million.

Mr Eide, who said he had not been briefed by Israel on its claims against UNRWA, has been vocal about the need to support the agency.

UNRWA has warned it might be forced to shut down operations not only in Gaza but across the region by the end of this month.

Replacing the agency, which provides essential services including education and health care to Palestinians across the Middle East, “would take too much time”, Mr Eide told The National.

“Famine is looming in Gaza, if UNRWA collapses the humanitarian crisis in Gaza will be exacerbated,” he said.

“Since UNRWA is crucial for [Palestinian] refugees in the West Bank, in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan as well, there is a risk that the security situation in the Middle East will be destabilised.

“There is no plan B after UNRWA.

“UNRWA's operation is the backbone for all humanitarian deliveries to Gaza, and the agency’s operation and staff are also critical for the presence of other humanitarian organisations in Gaza.”

He urged fellow donor countries to” reflect on the wider consequences of cutting funding” and said he would discuss the “desperate situation” at meetings in Washington and Beijing next week.

Some countries, including Sweden, UNRWA's fourth largest donor, said they would send the money that had been previously set aside for the agency to other humanitarian organisations.

The EU, also a major donor, stopped short of announcing a freeze in funding but said it would “review the matter in light of the outcome of the investigation announced by the UN and the actions it will take”.

The bloc has asked for an external audit of the agency. Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said on Thursday that he was “confident” that funding would continue.

The EU's next disbursement of €82 million is planned for later this month. Between 2021 and 2023, the bloc transferred €281 million to UNRWA.

Updated: February 02, 2024, 7:11 PM