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Switzerland, Netherlands freeze UNRWA funding following leaked report

UNRWA beneficiaries seen collecting aid during a visit by Pierre Krähenbühl, commissioner-general of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) to Gaza on Janaury 22, 2018 [Middle East Monitor / Mohammad Asad]
Palestinians can be seen carrying food aid given by UNRWA in Gaza City, Gaza on 15 January 2018 [Mohammad Asad]/Middle East Monitor]

Switzerland and the Netherlands have frozen funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) after an internal report alleging sexual misconduct and corruption among the agency’s top officials was leaked to the press.

Switzerland yesterday announced that it would suspend its funding to UNRWA, with the Swiss Foreign Ministry writing in an email to Agence France Presse (AFP) that though it had already made its annual contribution of 22.3 million Swiss francs ($22.5 million) to the refugee agency, any additional donations would be suspended.

Meanwhile the Netherlands – which donates around $15 million annually to UNRWA – also announced yesterday that it would suspend its financial contributions to the agency. Netherlands’ Minister for International Aid, Sigrid Kaag, told Dutch broadcaster NOS that the suspension would remain in force “until we get satisfactory answers” about the allegations detailed in the file.

The damning report, leaked to the international press on Monday, alleged that senior officials “have engaged in sexual misconduct, nepotism, retaliation, discrimination and other abuses of authority […] for personal gain, to suppress legitimate dissent, and to otherwise achieve their personal objectives, jeopardizing the credibility and interests of the agency”.

The report named UNRWA Commissioner General Pierre Krahenbuhl, as well as his “inner circle” comprised of Deputy Sandra Mitchell, Chief of Staff Hakam Shahwan and senior adviser Maria Mohammedi.

Krahenbuhl is alleged to have been involved in a relationship with Mohammedi, for whom he reportedly created the position of senior adviser within UNRWA, fast-tracking her appointment and enabling her to travel with him extensively on business.

A probe into the report’s findings has now been launched by the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS).

READ: Austria donates $2.1m for UNRWA health services

Following the emergence of the report, US Special Representative for International Negotiations, Jason Greenblatt, and former US envoy to the UN, Nikki Haley, were quick to criticise UNRWA and its officials. Greenblatt slammed the agency’s model as “broken, unsustainable and based on an endless[ly] expanding [number] of beneficiaries,” while Haley claimed that “this is exactly why [the administration of US President Donald Trump] stopped [UNRWA’s] funding”.

Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, has since joined these critics, calling on the international community to defund UNRWA altogether. “The report reveals alarming, but not surprising, findings,” Danon claimed, adding that “in addition to propagating false information about its refugee population, UNRWA has in recent years worked to redirect world funds to continue this corruption industry that has served its leadership.”

Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon in New York, US on 24 July 2018 [EuropaNewswire/Gado/Getty Images]

He continued: “The international community, which generously finances UNRWA, must immediately suspend the budgets assigned to the agency. The aid money should be gradually transferred to the UNHCR [UN High Commissioner for Refugees] instead of helping the UNRWA leadership continue engaging in a series of ethical offenses.”

UNRWA: Situation in Gaza moving from ‘bad to worse’

Danon has long been a fierce critic of UNRWA. In May, the UN Security Council held a special session on UNRWA, during which Danon slammed the agency for “empowering the refugee problem for years, instead of trying to solve it while adopting a unilateral political position”.

“The organization’s schools have been transformed into terror and incitement infrastructures, with textbooks distributed on the ground denying Israel’s existence,” he continued, adding that “UNRWA failed to rehabilitate the Gaza Strip and succeeded only in inciting violence against the State of Israel.”

“UNRWA’s mandate must come to an end,” Danon concluded.

Danon was also a vocal supporter of the Trump administration’s 2018 decision to defund UNRWA. In January of that year, the US announced it would only give the agency half of the aid it had planned to donate, before declaring in August it would “end funding altogether”.

Speaking in January, Danon praised the funding cuts, saying that “UNRWA has proven time and again to be an agency that misuses the humanitarian aid of the international community and instead supports anti-Israel propaganda, perpetuates the plight of Palestinian refugees and encourages hate.”

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