EU’s Borrell warns against cutting UNRWA funds


BRUSSELS: European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell warned on Sunday that moves to suspend the funding of U.N. Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA were extremely ill-advised.

“Defunding UNRWA would be both disproportionate and dangerous,” Borrell said of the agency which is embroiled in controversy over the alleged involvement of employees in the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas on Israel.

“While some important donors suspended funding, there is a wide recognition that UNRWA is central to providing vital aid to more than 1.1 million people in Gaza suffering from catastrophic hunger and the outbreak of diseases.”

“Defunding the agency would put hundreds of thousands of lives at risk,” said Borrell.

He added in a blog article that “the agency has taken immediate steps and launched an investigation,” calling the allegations serious and which should not go unpunished if true.

His comments come with more than a dozen countries, including major donors the United States, Germany, Britain and Sweden, having suspended funding to UNRWA over accusations that 12 staff members were involved in the Oct. 7 attack.

The agency — which has received a Norwegian nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize — has warned it will have to cease operations by the end of the month should funding be significantly pulled.

The EU late last month requested an audit of UNRWA, and said will review future funding in light of a U.N. investigation already being carried out into the claims.

Borrell said he was convinced the inquiry would be completed before the launch of an independent external investigation ahead of the next payment from the European Commission due at month’s end.

Borrell added that suspended total funds currently currently amount to “more than $440 million, or around half the agency’s expected funds for 2024.”

He warned such a shortfall called into danger the agency’s very existence.

In response to the Oct. 7 attack, which resulted in the deaths of some 1,200 people, mainly civilians, Israel vowed to wipe out Hamas.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last week that the U.N. agency had been “totally infiltrated” by the group, which has ruled Gaza since 2007.

Israel has responded to the attack with an air and ground offensive that has killed 27,365 people, mainly civilians, according to a Hamas health ministry toll updated Sunday.__Daily Hurriyet