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UNRWA defunding is disproportionate and dangerous, governments must urgently renew and strengthen funding


The International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) strongly condemns the recent funding suspensions by 16 governments and attacks on the credibility of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and calls for an urgent renewal and strengthening of funding.

The assault on UNRWA's funding jeopardises the lives of millions in Gaza and millions more refugees in neighbouring countries. Withdrawing funding from UNRWA in this critical moment risks exacerbating an already dire humanitarian catastrophe, including a serious risk of famine to the 5.9 million Palestine refugees eligible for UNRWA services in the West Bank, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and in besieged Gaza.

Stephen Cotton, General Secretary of the ITF said: “UNRWA plays an indispensable role in providing essential services such as education, healthcare, and social services to over 2 million Gazans, and millions more Palestinians refugees. By withdrawing support, countries risk further marginalising and jeopardising the lives of those already under siege and under incredible hardship.”

The suspensions follow allegations that 12 UNRWA employees were involved in the Hamas attacks in Israel in October. The highest investigative body in the UN system, the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), is now investigating these allegations. UNRWA quickly terminating the contracts of the accused staff members and appointed an independent Review Group to “assess whether the Agency is doing everything within its power to ensure neutrality and to respond to allegations of serious breaches when they are made”. The panel is due to deliver its report in April.

UNRWA provides essential government services in Gaza, including running 278 schools for 280,000 children and 22 primary healthcare centres, while also providing food to the approximately 2 million people who have been under siege by Israel since early October. 

The recent attacks on UNRWA come in direct contradiction to UN Security Council Resolutions 2712 and 2720 focused on restoring basic services and accelerating humanitarian assistance in Gaza and the Order of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Gaza Genocide Convention case filed by South Africa against Israel which issued binding provisional measures aimed at addressing the plausible evidence of genocide in Gaza. This ruling also highlighted the need for immediate action to address the ongoing human rights crisis in Gaza. Withdrawing funding from UNRWA undermines international law and undermines efforts to alleviate the suffering of vulnerable populations.

“This action is not only a violation of Palestinian refugees' rights but is also a betrayal of the principles of justice and solidarity on which international relations are built. The ITF urges governments around the world to reconsider their decisions and renew their commitments to UNRWA. It is only through international solidarity and cooperation that we can ensure the continued provision of vital humanitarian assistance to those in desperate need,” said Cotton. 

The ITF stands united with other global unions and organisations in advocating for the restoration of funding to UNRWA and in supporting the rights and dignity of Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank and across the region.

Echoing the International Trade Union Confederation we urge the international community to:

  • Condemn the attacks on UNRWA and work collaboratively to rectify the unjust and harmful withdrawal of financial support.
  • Pressure governments to reverse their decisions to withdraw funding from UNRWA.  
  • Recognise the gravity of the situation and take immediate steps to renew and strengthen funding commitments to UNRWA.