EU diplomat says defunding UN Palestinian agency would put thousands of lives at risk

United States, Britain and Italy have paused funding to the refugee aid organisation

The European Union’s top diplomat said on Sunday cutting funds to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, would put hundreds of thousands of lives at risk, amid allegations some of its staff were involved in the October 7th Hamas attacks on Israel.

A string of countries, including the United States, Britain and Italy, have paused funding to the aid agency, which has opened an investigation into several of its thousands of employees and severed ties with those people.

The agency on Thursday said its entire operations in the Middle East, not only in Gaza, will likely be forced to shut down by the end of February if its funding remains suspended.

“Defunding UNRWA would be both disproportionate and dangerous,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell wrote in a blog post.


“The wrongdoing of individuals should never lead to the collective punishment of an entire population,” he said.

Mr Borrell said neither the European Commission, nor the EU’s two biggest economies, Germany or France, had decided to end their contributions. Funds paused by other donors amount to more than $440 million, nearly half of the agency’s expected income this year, he said.

In 2022 the EU was the third biggest donor to UNRWA, after the United States and Germany.

“The lives of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, not only in Gaza, are at stake,” Mr Borrell said.

UNRWA was established in 1949 following the war surrounding the founding of Israel, when 700,000 Palestinians fled or were driven from their homes.

It employs 30,000 Palestinians to serve the civic and humanitarian needs of 5.9 million descendants of those refugees – in the Gaza Strip, in the West Bank and in vast camps in neighbouring Arab countries.

“I am confident that the UN will take all the necessary measures following the Israeli allegations, and that UNRWA will continue to be a vital lifeline for millions of Palestinian people,” Mr Borrell added. – Reuters