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The United States and eight other Western nations, collectively responsible for over half of UNRWA's budget in 2022, have opted to temporarily halt financial support for the agency.

This decision may carry significant consequences for the residents of Gaza, particularly the Palestinian population.


The United States, along with eight other Western countries, has collectively decided to suspend funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA). This funding pause, constituting over half of UNRWA's 2022 budget, comes in the aftermath of accusations by Israel against some UNRWA staff members of involvement in the October 7 attack. This development has far-reaching implications, particularly for the Palestinian population in Gaza.

About UNRWA 

(United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East)

Establishment and Mandate

  • Established in 1949 by the UN General Assembly (UNGA) to provide relief for refugees from the 1948 Palestine War.
  • Mandate includes Palestinian refugees and their descendants, encompassing legally adopted children.
  • Periodic renewal every three years; extended until June 30, 2026, during its latest review.

UNRWA Leader- Philippe Lazzarini

  • On 18 March 2020, Mr. Philippe Lazzarini was appointed as the Commissioner-General of UNRWA.
  • Simultaneously appointed as the Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations.
  • Appointed by United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres.
  • Prior to leading UNRWA, Mr. Lazzarini served as the Deputy UN Special Coordinator (UNSCOL).
  • Also held the position of Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Lebanon.
  • Served in the role of Deputy UN Special Coordinator and Resident/Humanitarian Coordinator for Lebanon from August 2015.
  • Undertook responsibilities related to coordinating UN activities in Lebanon.
  • Engaged in humanitarian coordination efforts to address the needs of the population.

Scope of Assistance

  • Provides support for relief, human development, education, healthcare, and social services.
  • Initially focused on employment and direct relief, UNRWA's role has evolved over the years.

Registration and Numbers

  • As of 2019, more than 5.6 million Palestinians registered as refugees under UNRWA.
  • Includes those displaced by the 1948 Palestine War and subsequent conflicts.

Geographic Reach

  • Operational in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the Gaza Strip, and the West Bank (including East Jerusalem).
  • Exclusively assists Palestinian refugees, distinguishing its role from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Workforce Composition

  • Employs over 30,000 staff, primarily Palestinian refugees, with a smaller number of international staff.
  • Manages schools, primary healthcare clinics, and various social services in Gaza.
  • Distributes humanitarian aid, particularly crucial since the economic collapse post-2005 blockade.

Impact in Gaza

  • Gaza's primary provider of education, healthcare, and social services.
  • Services gained significance post-2005, addressing challenges arising from economic collapse due to blockade.

Humanitarian Aid and Shelter

  • Provides humanitarian aid to address essential needs.
  • Serves as shelters for displaced populations during conflicts, with around a million Gazans seeking refuge in UNRWA schools and public buildings.


  • UNRWA focuses specifically on Palestinian refugees, while UNHCR has a global mandate assisting refugees from all regions.
  • UNHCR aims to eliminate refugee status through local integration, resettlement, or repatriation, distinguishing it from UNRWA's mission.

Controversies and Challenges

  • Controversies surround UNRWA's role in the Gaza Strip and its alleged association with Hamas.
  • Suspension of funding by major Western donors, including the United States and the United Kingdom, following accusations of UNRWA employees' involvement in the October 7 attacks.

Recent Developments

  • Layoffs and investigations within UNRWA due to the funding suspension.
  • Ongoing challenges to address concerns raised by donors and allegations related to the agency's operations.

Future Prospects

  • UNRWA faces challenges in maintaining its operations and fulfilling its mandate in light of funding uncertainties.
  • The agency plays a crucial role in addressing the humanitarian needs and fostering development for Palestinian refugees in the region.

UNRWA History

Post-1948 Arab-Israeli War

  • The 1948 Arab-Israeli War led to the displacement of Palestinian Arabs.
  • UN General Assembly Resolution 212 (III) on 19 November 1948 established UN Relief for Palestine Refugees (UNRPR) for emergency relief.

Resolution 194 and UNCCP

  • Less than a month later, Resolution 194 addressed multifaceted dimensions of the conflict.
  • Created the United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine (UNCCP) for a final settlement.
  • UNCCP is tasked with overseeing repatriation, resettlement, and rehabilitation in collaboration with UNRPR.

Establishment of UNRWA

  • UNRWA succeeded UNRPR, assuming a broader mandate focused on humanitarian assistance and development.
  • Commenced operations in 1950 with a commitment to impartiality.

Initial Scope and Focus

  • Initial work centered on direct relief and works programs addressing immediate needs.
  • Aimed to prevent starvation and distress while fostering conditions of peace and stability.

Evolution of Mandate

  • Resolution 393(V) on 2 December 1950 directed UNRWA to establish a reintegration fund.
  • The fund aimed at the permanent re-establishment of refugees, transitioning away from relief dependency.
  • Resolution emphasized a significant allocation of resources, four times more than for relief efforts, for reintegration.

Focus on Healthcare, Education, and Welfare

  • Subsequent resolution on 26 January 1952 instructed UNRWA to sustain programs in healthcare, education, and general welfare.
  • Reflecting a commitment to long-term development and well-being beyond immediate relief efforts.

Commitment to Impartiality

  • UNRWA's expanded mandate included a commitment to impartiality, emphasizing assistance irrespective of political considerations.

Operational Commencement (1950)

  • UNRWA officially began its operations in 1950, marking the initiation of its dedicated efforts in the region.

Funding Mechanism of UNRWA 

Determination and Sources

  • The UN General Assembly determines UNRWA's budget.
  • Financed predominantly by voluntary contributions from member states of the United Nations, with a significant portion allocated from the standard UN budget, specifically designated for international staffing expenses.

Funding Structure

  • Routine funding for ongoing operations.
  • Resources for unforeseen crises and special initiatives.
  • Varied sources contribute to different aspects of UNRWA's budget.

Historical Contributors

  • Past major contributors:-
    • United States
    • The European Commission.
  • In 2019, European Union nations contributed almost 60% of the total $1.00 billion pledge.
  • Leading contributors: Germany, EU, United Kingdom, Sweden, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, France, Japan, Qatar, and the Netherlands.

Collaboration with Non-Governmental Donors

  • Collaborative ventures with non-governmental donors, including national committees in donor nations.
  • Nonprofit organizations supplement funding streams.

Challenges and Financial Crisis

  • Voluntary nature of funding occasionally leads to financial challenges.
  • The financial crisis in 2009 resulted in a $200 million shortfall, stemming from the Israeli offensive in Gaza.
  • The U.S. decision to halt contributions in 2018 led to a $300 million loss, contributing to a $446 million overall deficit offset by increased contributions from other sources.

Temporary Suspension and Reinstatement

  • Mid-2019: Netherlands, Belgium, and Switzerland temporarily suspended funding to UNRWA citing an ethics report.
  • By December 2019, the Netherlands reinstated funding, raising its contribution by €6 million.
  • The EU and Germany increased commitments, and Qatar augmented its donation.

Ministerial Meetings and Dialogue

  • Ministerial Strategic Dialogue in April to deliberate UNRWA funding for 2019 and beyond.
  • High-level ministerial meeting on UNRWA funding during the annual General Assembly meeting in 2019.
  • Continuous dialogue to address funding challenges and strategize for sustainability.

Concerns about Sustainability

  • In July 2020, Commissioner-General Lazzarini expressed concerns regarding the sustainability of UNRWA's budget.
  • Shortfalls reported in four of the preceding five years, reaching its lowest point since 2012.

Resource Mobilization Efforts in 2022

  • In 2022, the total pledged amount reached US$ 1.17 billion.
  • Private partnerships made an extra contribution of US$ 15.4 million.
  • Emphasis on the pivotal role of individuals, especially during emergencies, in addressing the needs of Palestinian refugees.

What are Israel's Allegations Regarding UNRWA?

  • Dossier Contents: A six-page Israeli dossier alleges that 12 UNRWA staff members participated in the Oct. 7 attacks. Among them, nine were teachers in UNRWA schools, and ten directly engaged in the raid into Israeli territory.
  • Prime Minister's Statement: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated that the number of UNRWA staff participating in the raid was 13.
  • Wider Allegations: The dossier claims broader evidence that UNRWA employed 190 members affiliated with Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

UNRWA's Response to Israeli Accusations

  • Swift Action: UNRWA asserts it acted promptly upon being alerted to Israeli evidence, terminating the contracts of staff involved in the Oct. 7 attacks.
  • Denial and Shock: UNRWA Chief expresses shock at the funding suspension, emphasizing the agency's immediate action and the need for a transparent independent investigation.
  • Impact on Mission: UNRWA warns that the funding suspension jeopardizes its entire mission and exacerbates the existing humanitarian emergency in Gaza.
  • Financial Strain: The agency highlights its longstanding financial strain, having appealed for $1.6 billion in funding in January 2023, citing the risk to its operations.
  • Operational Timeline: UNRWA states that without funding resumption, it would be unable to continue operations in Gaza and the broader region beyond the end of February.


The decision by the United States and eight other Western nations to suspend funding for UNRWA, based on Israeli allegations against some of its staff, raises significant concerns about the well-being of the Palestinian population in Gaza. The funding pause, constituting over half of UNRWA's 2022 budget, comes amid ongoing challenges for the agency, including financial strains and accusations, jeopardizing its ability to fulfill its crucial humanitarian mission in the region. The situation underscores the urgent need for diplomatic solutions and sustained support to address the complex challenges faced by Palestinian refugees.

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