The head of the UN relief agency assisting Palestine refugees (UNRWA) said on Saturday that some countries’ decisions to halt funding will jeopardize its lifesaving programmes, urging them to reconsider.
It was “shocking” to see the suspension of funds in reaction to allegations against a small group of staff, Philippe Lazzarini, UNRWA Commissioner General, said in a statement.
“It would be immensely irresponsible to sanction an Agency and an entire community it serves because of allegations of criminal acts against some individuals, especially at a time of war, displacement and political crises in the region.”
Mr. Lazzarini urged the countries that suspended their funding to re-consider their decisions before UNRWA is forced to suspend its humanitarian response.
“The lives of people in Gaza depend on this support and so does regional stability,” he said.
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He also noted the immediate action UNRWA took by terminating the staffers’ contracts and asking for a transparent independent investigation.
Nine countries, including the United States, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, Germany and Italy have suspended funding to UNRWA following allegations that several Agency staff were involved in the 7 October terror attacks in southern Israel.
Mr. Lazzarini announced that the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), the highest investigative body in the UN system, has already been seized of the matter.
“An investigation by OIOS into the heinous allegations will establish the facts,” he stated.
“Moreover, as I announced on 17 January, an independent review by external experts will help UNRWA strengthen its framework for the strict adherence of all staff to the humanitarian principles,” he added.
The agency’s head cited Friday’s ruling from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that ordered Israel to take measures to enable humanitarian assistance for people in Gaza.
“The only way that this can be done is through cooperation with international partners, especially UNRWA as the largest humanitarian actor in Gaza,” he stressed.
Over two million people in the Gaza Strip depend on the Agency for their survival. UNRWA runs shelters for over one million people and has been providing food and healthcare to civilians in dire need since the start of the conflict.