Estonia and Japan have joined a group of eleven countries in suspending funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) following allegations of misconduct by some of its staff members. The allegations are linked to the staff’s supposed participation in the Hamas-led massacre on Oct. 7.
Estonian Foreign Minister Tsahkna expressed the country’s stance on the platform X, stating, “Concerning the recent very serious allegations against @UNRWA, Estonia will not continue with the funding of the organization.” Similarly, Japan’s Foreign Ministry voiced its concerns, declaring a halt to any new funding to UNRWA until the completion of an ongoing investigation into the matter.
The suspension of funds by these nations adds to the growing list of countries, including Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States, that have paused their financial contributions to UNRWA. This collective action places at risk a significant portion of the agency’s budget, which exceeds $1.6 billion, aimed at supporting 5.9 million Palestinian refugees across the Middle East.
UNRWA, responsible for providing essential services like food, education, and healthcare, finds itself in a precarious position as a result of these suspensions. Philippe Lazzarini, UNRWA’s Commissioner-General, highlighted the agency’s critical role in supporting Gaza’s population, particularly during the ongoing conflict.
In response to the funding crisis, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres made a fervent appeal to donor countries, urging them to reconsider their decisions. Guterres emphasized the dire needs of Gazan civilians, stating, “Two million civilians in Gaza depend on critical aid from UNRWA for daily survival, but UNRWA’s current funding will not allow it to meet all requirements to support them in February.”
The Israeli government, which privately submitted the allegations to UNRWA, has not publicly disclosed the details. Following the complaint, Lazzarini took immediate action by dismissing nine staff members involved. Guterres reassured that the UN had taken “swift action following the extremely serious allegations” and that an investigation was already underway.
Humanitarian organizations and UN experts have warned of the severe consequences that the funding suspension might entail. Jan Egeland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council, made a poignant statement, saying, “Donors, do not starve children for the sins of a few individual aid workers.” Meanwhile, a UN-appointed expert on the right to food, Michael Fakhri, cautioned that famine in Gaza was now “inevitable” due to the funding cuts.
The international community remains divided on the issue, with some nations like Norway and Ireland pledging to continue their support for UNRWA. Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide expressed his country’s commitment on X, stating, “UNRWA is a lifeline for millions of people in deep distress in Gaza as well as in the wider region.”