29 Jan 2024

MFAT to review funding for under-fire UN agency accused over Hamas attacks

1:53 pm on 29 January 2024
A displaced Palestinian youth pushes a cart loaded with bags of flour they received from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on January 28, 2024, amid ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. Several key donor countries to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees said they would halt funding following Israeli charges that some UNRWA staff took part in Hamas's October 7 attack. (Photo by AFP)

A displaced Palestinian youth pushes a cart loaded with bags of flour he received from UNRWA in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on January 28, 2024. Photo: AFP

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade says it will review its contribution for the UNRWA, which is under fire after some its staff allegedly took part in Hamas' attack on Israel in October.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said this country has been providing UNRWA (the UN refugee agency for Palestinians) with $1 million a year in funding.

MFAT said in the statement: "As we always do prior to releasing funds, we will assess the situation again prior to that payment being made."

At least nine countries, including top donors the US and Germany, have paused funding after allegations by Israel that a dozen of UNRWA's 13,000 staff in Gaza were involved in the 7 October rampage.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was "horrified by this news" and has called for a swift investigation.

The agency said on Friday it had opened a probe into several employees and severed ties with those people, the BBC reported.

In a statement on Monday, an MFAT spokesperson said the ministry was aware of the allegations and had already "unequivocally condemned these attacks" by Hamas.

The ministry expected the allegations to be urgently investigated and that the findings would be met "with an appropriate response".

"We have confidence in the systems and processes of the United Nations to undertake this investigation, and will follow it closely."

MFAT also said the bulk of New Zealand's contribution to the current crisis in Gaza has been via other agencies - including $5 million to the International Committee of the Red Cross and $5m to the World Food Programme.

Earlier on Monday, UN officials urged countries to reconsider a pause in funding for UNRWA, vowing that any staff found to be involved in Hamas' attack on Israel would be punished and warning that aid for some two million people in Gaza was at stake.

Since the 7 October attacks, which killed 1200 people in Israel, most of Gaza's 2.3 million people have become more reliant on the aid UNRWA provides, including about one million who have fled Israeli bombardments sheltering in its facilities.

Agency 'a lifeline for millions'

Hector Sharp

Hector Sharp Photo: Supplied

A New Zealander working for the UN refugee agency for Palestinians says having countries pull funding is devastating.

Speaking from Geneva, Hector Sharp told Midday Report UNRWA was the only organisation with the ability to deliver the kind of aid needed in Gaza.

"We've been doing this for 75 years, so we're quite good at it," he said.

"In Gaza, we have nearly two million people of the 2.3 million residents completely dependent on UNRWA for their daily shelter, food, and survival."

Sharp said what was happening now in Gaza was a man-made famine.

"This loss of funding comes at a time where UNRWA is a lifeline for millions of people," he said.

Sharp said they were urging the countries that have cut funding to reverse those decisions.

He said the allegations of staff from UNRWA being involved in the 7 October attacks came as a shock.

"United Nations employees must remain neutral, independent, and impartial," he said.

"UNRWA as a humanitarian agency, we don't have a police force, we don't have an intelligence service or a criminal justice capacity, so we have no authority to monitor what our staff do outside their work.

"But, we also don't work in a vacuum, our staff are drawn from a population which is under ongoing occupation and we are aware of the neutrality risks that this poses," Sharp said.

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