UNRWA cannot be 'replaced or substituted', says Gaza aid co-ordinator

Sigrid Kaag's remarks came as UN chief met 36 donor countries to discuss funding for agency

An UNRWA vehicle drives past displaced Palestinians walking near the Egyptian border in Rafah. EPA
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A senior UN aid official said on Tuesday that UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, cannot be “replaced or substituted”, following Israeli allegations that staff members were involved in the October 7 Hamas attack.

“It's very critical that we recognise the central role that UNRWA plays in the Gaza Strip in the delivery of humanitarian aid and prior, of course, to the conflict, when schools were open or the clinics were open,” Sigrid Kaag, senior humanitarian and reconstruction co-ordinator for Gaza, told reporters following a closed door meeting of the UN Security Council.

She added that “there is no way any organisation can replace or substitute tremendous capacity, the fabric of UNRWA the ability and their knowledge of the population in Gaza”.

Several countries, including the US, Britain, Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands, France and Japan, have suspended funding to the UN agency following accusations that some staff members were involved in the October 7 Hamas attacks on Israel.

Israel has accused the UN agency of bias and pledged to end its operations in Gaza after the war.

Ms Kaag told reporters that she had shared her observations and recommendations during her briefing to the council, highlighting the logistics of Gaza supply routes and the distribution process, as well as creating a supportive environment and a UN aid oversight mechanism.

Why are western countries cutting funding to UNRWA? – video

Why are western countries cutting funding to UNRWA, Gaza's main aid organisation?

Why are western countries cutting funding to UNRWA, Gaza's main aid organisation?

“This is not about counting [aid] trucks. This is about volume, quality, speed and continuous delivery of humanitarian and commercial goods to reach the civilians of Gaza,” she said.

“And the mechanism, when up and running, can really help facilitate that.”

Ms Kaag's remarks came as UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres was preparing to meet 36 donor countries to discuss UNRWA funding.

Also speaking to reporters, US ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said that “there has to be accountability for anyone who participated in this attack on October 7".

She further added that the US has reached out to Israel to “seek more information about these allegations" and welcomed the decision by the UN to conduct an investigation and an independent assessment and review of UNRWA.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters that every year UNRWA provides a list of its 13,000 staff in Gaza to Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

“As far as I’m told by UNRWA, concerns have not been raised when the list of staff have been shared,” he said.

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Ms Thomas Greenfield stressed that Washington needs to see “fundamental changes” before funding to UNRWA can resume.

“We need to look at the organisation, how it operates in Gaza, how they manage their staff and to ensure that people who commit criminal acts, such as these 12 individuals, are held accountable immediately so that UNRWA can continue the essential work that it's doing,” she said.

At the same time, the US envoy said "UNRWA plays a critical – critical – role in providing life-saving assistance to Palestinians, including essential food and medicine, shelter and other vital humanitarian support. ”

"They've literally saved thousands of lives, and it's unfortunate that this information has raised some doubts about UNRWA."

Updated: January 31, 2024, 4:24 AM