Federal government will not suspend UNRWA funding pending investigation
The Belgian federal government will not suspend funding for the UN Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) for the time being, he cabinet of Development Cooperation minister Caroline Gennez said on Wednesday afternoon. Belgium will await results from an investigation into possible links between members of UNRWA staff and the Palestinian extremist organisation Hamas.
Earlier this week, 12 countries, including the US, UK, Germany, Canada, and Japan, announced their decision to suspend UNRWA funding. The agency has been responsible for coordinating aid, education and healthcare for Palestinians for decades, including in the Gaza Strip and in Palestinian refugee camps in the region. However, according to Israel, at least 12 of its 30,000 regional staff were involved in the Hamas terrorist attack in Israel on 7 October.
The Belgian core federal cabinet consulted on the issue on Wednesday after the United Nations briefed donors on their investigation. Belgium has decided to continue funding for the time being, "given the high humanitarian needs and the threat of famine in Gaza", said Gennez, of Flemish socialists Vooruit.
UN briefings indicate that Israeli security forces have not yet shared evidence with them or the other donors.
Gennez's office said the decision to continue funding UNRWA does not indicate that Belgium is not taking Israel's allegations seriously. Belgium intends to closely monitor the announced UN internal investigation and demands that UNRWA provide complete transparency and take measures to screen its staff better.
The government additionally supports the European Commission's call for an external audit to be conducted. "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.
The federal government supported UNRWA with 11.5 million euros last year, of which 7 million was for general operations and 4.5 million for specific projects.
UNRWA 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 knowledge of the population make it irreplaceable on the ground. "Completely suspending all funding would be a collective punishment for a population already suffering greatly from violence, deprivation and despair," Gennez said.
© PHOTO SAID KHATIB / AFP