Donors to UN agency in Gaza ‘need confidence’: Wong

February 8, 2024 by AAP
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Australia’s foreign minister has spoken of the need to support Palestinian refugees as she looks to unfreeze funding for the United Nations organisation responsible.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong in the Senate chamber at Parliament House in Canberra, Tuesday, December 5, 2023. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

Penny Wong was on Thursday quizzed about her recent decision to suspend funding to the UN Relief and Works Agency.

The decision was made after allegations were raised that some agency staff were involved in a Hamas attack against Israel in October last year.

The Australian government considers Hamas a terror organisation and paused funding while the claims were investigated.

The foreign minister spoke with agency head Philippe Lazzarini on Wednesday following reports an Israeli dossier relied upon to suspend funding contained no evidence its staff were involved.

“We recognise the importance of that organisation, which is why we’ve doubled the core funding, and I spoke with him about the various inquiries and investigations they are doing,” Senator Wong told reporters in Canberra.

“We spoke about ensuring that donors such as Australia can have the confidence to ensure that the pause is lifted because this is important for the people of Gaza and the people of the occupied Palestinian territories.”

Senator Wong said it was in the agency’s interest to ensure there was that confidence, by the time the next round of donor operational funding is due.

“The primary concern is making sure that other donors, particularly those who have not provided their next round of operational funding … that that confidence can be attained before the end of the month,” she told ABC television’s 730 program.

“What’s important is how we restore confidence so Australia, Canada, Japan and others are in a position to provide further … that is what matters.”

The freeze was criticised by international aid organisations and the Palestinian representative in Australia as a collective punishment and a severe hindrance to Palestinians’ wellbeing.

The Greens have called on the government to reinstate funding.

“It is crystal clear that this funding is crucial to help avert a humanitarian catastrophe,” Greens leader Adam Bandt said.

“People need humanitarian assistance, and they need it right now.”

During question time, the minister said the UN agency was the only organisation capable of delivering aid in Gaza.

“In the context where you have 400,000 Palestinians starving, a million facing starvation, and 1.7 million people displaced that does matter,” she said.

“Another irrefutable fact is that serious allegations have been raised, which is why the government has paused funding and is engaging with UNRWA and with partners, including in the context of the investigations that have been raised.”

Senator Wong was questioned about what checks took place before the Palestinian aid package was announced.

“The advice to me based on the independently audited review was that there was no evidence that our funds have been diverted and that our key partners including the United States, United Kingdom and Canada, who all fund UNRWA, held the same view,” she said.

The foreign affairs department also investigated reports UN agency staff were involved in kidnapping Israeli hostages.

“We have agreements with our law that prohibit Hamas or any other terrorist organisations from receiving funding,” Senator Wong said.

“These requirements are closely monitored.”

More than 1200 people were killed and 240 others taken hostage in the October 7 attack by Hamas, according to Israeli officials.

Israel’s subsequent war on Hamas has killed more than 27,000 Palestinians and wounded another 66,000 people, according to the UN and Gaza health ministry.


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