Swiss and Dutch suspend UNRWA donations

The Netherlands and Switzerland announced yesterday that they are suspending payments to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) after details emerged of serious mismanagement at the agency.

Sigrid Kaag, the Dutch minister of development cooperation, said the Dutch contribution of $14.5 million to UNRWA would be placed “on hold until we have received a satisfactory response from the UN in New York.” She added: “The Netherlands hopes the situation will be resolved quickly, as UNRWA has an important humanitarian mandate to fulfil.”

The Swiss foreign ministry said it had already made its annual contribution of $22.5m to UNRWA, but that it was “suspending any additional contributions” to the agency, pending the findings of UN investigators examining the ethics report.

The decisions follow revelations earlier this week of serious ethical abuses at the organisation, which is responsible for supporting more than five million registered Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the Palestinian territories.

Media reports suggest the head of the agency, Commissioner-General Pierre Krahenbuhl is at the centre of the allegations. A report by the agency’s ethics department leaked to media claims he appointed an employee with whom he was romantically involved through an “extreme fast-track process”, allowing her to join him on business class flights around the world. In another case, one of Krahenbuhl’s deputies is accused of appointing her husband to a well-paid job at UNWRA. There are also allegations of bullying including one senior official described as acting like a “gangster” and a “thug”, with UNRWA saying the official was recently “separated from the agency as a result of inappropriate behaviour” linked to the investigation.

UNRWA spokesperson Tamara al-Rifai said: “There is an ongoing investigation concerning UNRWA, and nothing that is being disseminated or discussed are findings of the investigation, only allegations and rumours.”

Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon said the report was “alarming, but not surprising.” He said the international community: “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.” Jason Greenblatt, US Special Envoy to the Middle East, called for a “full and transparent investigation” and described UNRWA’s model as “broken” in a tweet.

The Department for International Development (DFID) said the UK would wait for the result of a UN investigation before taking any action. A spokesman told MailOnline: “The UK Government does not comment on leaked reports.”

The total budget for UNRWA is $1.2bn. In 2018, the UK donated $92m to UNRWA and has pledged $84m for 2019. In September 2018 the US stopped all its funding to UNRWA, calling it an “irredeemably flawed operation,” creating a shortfall of approximately $200m.