The Government won’t sign off on new funding for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees in Gaza until Foreign Minister Winston Peters is confident the agency has responded to “serious” allegations levelled against it, PM Christopher Luxon says.
In the past week, Israel’s allegations that 12 employees of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, known as UNRWA, were involved in Hamas’ October 7 attack have led the United States and several other countries to cut off funding to the agency.
Speaking to media at Parliament on Tuesday morning, Luxon said New Zealand had offered millions in humanitarian aid for the conflict to multiple organisations in the region.
He said there had been “very serious” allegations made against the UNRWA.
“There’s been some very serious allegations. I think you’ve probably read the allegations that are pretty profound and pretty serious. We want to be reassured that that’s a good organisation — that it’s the right place to put money into,” the PM said.
“It’s about a million dollars in the context of $10 million been spent on humanitarian assistance already through the Red Cross and the World Food Programme.”
He added: “They’re serious allegations, they need to be understood and investigated and when the Foreign Minister says he’s done that – and he’s happy for us to continue to contribute — we’ll do that.”
Asked how long the decision could take, the PM said: “It’ll take as long as it takes.”
New Zealand provides UNRWA with $1 million in funding annually to support humanitarian assistance for Palestinian refugees.
The three-year agreement to support the UN agency was signed in 2022, prior to Hamas’ October 2023 attack and a significant escalation of conflict in the region.
New Zealand’s last contribution to the UNRWA was in June 2023, and the next payment is not due until another six months.
A spokesperson for Foreign Minister Winston Peters told 1News yesterday: “He has sought advice from officials and will take a decision on the next $1 million funding due by June 30 on the basis of that advice.”
UN agency fires staffers over allegation
On Saturday, the UNRWA fired a number of its staffers in Gaza suspected of taking part in the October 7 attack by Hamas and other militants on southern Israel, its director said, prompting the United States — the agency’s biggest donor— to temporarily halt its funding.
The agency has been the main agency providing aid for Gaza’s population amid the humanitarian disaster caused by Israel’s offensive against Hamas in Gaza triggered by the October 7 attack.
UNRWA officials did not comment on the impact that the US halt in funding would have on its operations.
UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini said it terminated contracts with “several” employees and ordered an investigation after Israel provided information alleging they played a role in the attack.
The US State Department said there were allegations against 12 employees. UNRWA has 13,000 staffers in Gaza, almost all of them Palestinians, ranging from teachers in schools that the agency runs to doctors, medical staff and aid workers.
Additional reporting by The Associated Press