BRUSSELS: Humanitarian aid groups have appealed to the EU to release tens of millions of euros in funding due to the main UN agency that delivers most aid to people in the Gaza Strip as the organization teeters on the brink of financial collapse.
The European Commission, the EU’s executive branch, was due to disburse €82 million ($89 million) to the UNRWA aid agency on Feb. 29. UNRWA said that it still had not received the payment as of Thursday morning.
“This is a moment of reckoning for the EU as a humanitarian leader and a critical donor for this crisis,” said Niamh Nic Carthaigh, from Plan International’s EU Liaison Office.
“Any further cuts to UNRWA funding would be an effective death sentence for civilians trapped in Gaza and the region who rely on the agency for their survival,” she said in a joint statement from 17 aid groups, including the International Rescue Committee, Save the Children and Oxfam.
UNRWA is reeling from allegations that 12 of its 13,000 Gaza staff members participated in the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks in southern Israel. The agency immediately fired the employees, but more than a dozen countries suspended funding worth about $450 million, almost half its budget for 2024.
UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini has described the payment due from the EU as “absolutely critical.”
The agency has been the leading supplier of food, water, and shelter during the war in Gaza. Lazzarini has warned that it may be forced to suspend its work soon.
Two UN investigations into Israel’s allegations against the agency are underway, but the European Commission — the third biggest donor to UNRWA after the US and Germany — has demanded a separate audit and wants to appoint experts to carry it out.
Asked on Thursday how the audit is evolving and when funds might be released, European Commission spokesman Eric Mamer said that “work is ongoing.”
“The plight of the Palestinian people is of utmost concern to us. At the same time, we have set out several points that need to be agreed with UNRWA before we decide on the next payment, which is indeed foreseen for the end of the month,” Mamer said.
The war has driven 80 percent of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million Palestinians from their homes, and UN officials say a quarter of the population is starving.
The European Commission acknowledged this week that no agency other than UNRWA is capable of helping Gaza’s people correctly and that Israel has provided no evidence to support its allegations against the agency’s staff. The agency provides Israel with a yearly staff list and has received no objections.
Despite this, it insists on “a review of all UNRWA staff” to confirm they had no role in the attacks. Of the UN agency’s 13,000 Gaza staff members, more than 3,000 continue working there.
Among the EU’s 27 member countries, several have unilaterally suspended funding. Germany said it “will temporarily not approve any new funds” until investigations are concluded. France, Italy, and the Netherlands have taken similar positions.