18 March 2024

Australia restores Gaza funding to UN Relief and Works Agency

| Andrew McLaughlin
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Australia will provide an extra $6 million to UNRWA, the organisation charged with supporting Gaza’s population in the face of unrelenting attacks from Israel. Photo: UNICEF.

Foreign Minister Penny Wong has announced that Australia will lift its ban on funding the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), and will provide an additional $6 million to the agency charged with supporting Gaza’s population in the face of unrelenting attacks from Israel.

The decision to suspend funding to UNRWA in late January came after Israeli allegations that 12 UNRWA employees were involved in the Hamas attacks on Israeli citizens on 7 October, 2023. Since that time, the Australian Government has sought evidence of the participation of UNRWA staff, but has been unable to present that publicly, although it says several UNRWA staff have been dismissed.

The government said the nature of the allegations warranted an immediate and appropriate response, and that the government had been working with donor countries and with UNRWA itself on what it called the shared objective of ensuring the integrity of UNRWA’s operations, rebuilding confidence and ensuring aid flowed to Gazans in desperate need.

“Australia and our partners welcome the decisive actions from UNRWA and the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to strengthen the integrity of operations,” it said.

“This includes the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services’ investigation of the allegations, and the independent review into UNRWA and the principle of neutrality, led by former French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna.”

Senator Wong said the Australian Government would work with UNRWA to ensure its integrity and neutrality were beyond reproach.

“The additional assistance provided, including support for airdrops, is recognition that we need to pursue all avenues to address the suffering in Gaza,” she said.

“Only UNRWA has the infrastructure to receive and distribute aid on the scale needed right now in Gaza. But aid can only reach the civilian population at scale if Israel lets it into Gaza.

“Australia implores Israel to allow this to happen.”

Part of the increased aid will include the delivery of 140 Australian Defence Force (ADF) aerial delivery parachutes by a Royal Australian Air Force C-17A transport, with the parachutes to be dropped into Gaza by Jordanian and UAE aircraft.

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Australia will also provide an additional $4 million to UNICEF to provide urgent services, including for women and children, and $2 million to the new mechanism of the UN Senior Humanitarian and Reconstruction Coordinator for Gaza, to facilitate expanded humanitarian access into Gaza.

Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Richard Marles said Australia remained deeply concerned about the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza.

“We are pleased to support the efforts of Jordan and the United Arab Emirates to provide crucial humanitarian aid to civilians through airdrops,” he said.

“We continue to call for safe, unimpeded and sustained access for humanitarian supplies to enable lifesaving support for the civilians in Gaza.”

The Australian Council for International Development (ACFID), the peak body for humanitarian and development organisations, welcomed the announcement, but called for more aid.

ACFID chief executive Marc Purcell said the decision was overdue given the urgency of the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza and UNRWA’s lifesaving support among a population currently on the brink of famine.

“Children are already dying of starvation on the world’s watch. Parachuting aid is not a solution,” Mr Purcell said.

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”Five civilians have already died in trying to reach airdrops in Gaza, and the aid is only reached by those who are fit and able to do so. Women, children, the elderly and people with disability are left behind; those who are sick, injured and starving will not receive this relief.

“It is essential that the Australian Government redoubles its efforts to ensure aid convoys can enter Gaza safely via land.

“We call on the Australian Government to urge that aid convoys and humanitarian workers are not targeted further by the Israeli defence forces as they seek to assist civilians.”

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