Belgium to keep funding UNWRA pending investigation

Belgium to keep funding UNWRA pending investigation
Credit: Belga

The Belgian Government is not suspending funding for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) for the time being, it announced on Wednesday.

Belgium has decided to wait for the results of UN investigations into the possible links between some UNRWA staff and Hamas, Belga News Agency reports. According to Israel, at least 12 of its 30,000 regional staff were involved in the Hamas terror attack in Israel on 7 October, with two accused of having taken part in kidnappings.

Twelve countries, including the US, UK, Germany, Canada and Japan announced in recent days that they would suspend funding to UNRWA. The agency has been coordinating aid, education and healthcare for Palestinians for decades, including in the Gaza Strip but also in other Palestinian refugee camps in the region.

Belgium's core cabinet consulted on the issue on Wednesday after the United Nations briefed donors in recent days, and on that basis decided to keep the donations for the time being, "given the high humanitarian needs and the threat of famine in Gaza," Gennez echoes.

United Nations spokespersons have indicated that Israel is yet to provide evidence to the UN or other donors. The Belgian Government stressed that it expects Israel to share that evidence immediately.

Belgium will closely monitor the United Nations internal investigation, demand that UNRWA provide full transparency and urge the organisation to take measures to better screen its staff.

Minister for Development Caroline Gennez, Defence Minister Ludivine Dedonder, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo and Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib pictured during a press conference after a Minister's Kern meeting of the Federal Government, in Brussels, Friday 19 January 2024. Credit: Belga / Nicolas Maeterlinck

The government additionally supports the European Commission's call for an external audit to be conducted as well. "If the allegations are confirmed, very strict action must be taken. It is absolutely unacceptable for staff to be involved in, or glorify, the barbaric terrorist attacks of 7 October," Gennez said.

In response to the allegations earlier this week, Commissioner-General of the UN agency, Philippe Lazzarini said: "UNRWA shares the list of all its staff with host countries every year, including Israel. The Agency never received any concerns on specific staff members."

Lazzarini also stressed that decisions to pull support threatens ongoing humanitarian work across the region, especially in the Gaza Strip.

Last year, the Federal Government supported UNRWA with €11.5 million, of which €7 million was for general operations and €4.5 million for specific projects.

The agency depends almost entirely on donors for funding. According to Sigrid Kaag, the UN humanitarian coordinator for the Gaza Strip, the organisation's enormous capacity, structure and grassroots knowledge make it irreplaceable on the ground.

"To completely suspend all funding would be a collective punishment for a population already suffering greatly from violence, deprivation and despair," Gennez stressed.

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