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July 31, 2019 12:34 pm

Netherlands Becomes Second Country to Suspend UNRWA Funding Over Corruption Allegations Against Palestinian Refugee Agency

avatar by Algemeiner Staff

A view of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) building in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. Photo: Abed Rahim Khatib / Flash90.

The allegations of systematic corruption at the highest levels of UNRWA — the United Nations body dedicated solely to Palestinian refugees and their descendants — proved too much for a second donor nation on Wednesday, as the Netherlands announced that it was freezing its  contributions to the agency.

Sigrid Kaag, the Dutch minister of development cooperation, told the Dutch news outlet De Telegraaf that her ministry was closely monitoring developments that followed this week’s leak of a UN internal report detailing serious misconduct by top officials including Pierre Krähenbühl, the Swiss director-general of UNRWA.

“We have expressed our great concern and have asked for clarification,” Kaag said. “We are also in consultation with other donors.”

Kaag said in a ministry statement that this year’s 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.”

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The statement continued: “The Netherlands hopes the situation will be resolved quickly, as UNRWA has an important humanitarian mandate to fulfill.”

The Dutch decision came hours after Switzerland announced that it was freezing its contributions to UNRWA, based on its concerns about the report into the agency’s operations assembled by the UN’s Office of Internal Oversight Services.

The 10-page document cited “credible and corroborated reports” that members of an “inner circle” at UNRWA had engaged in “abuses of authority for personal gain, to suppress legitimate dissent and to otherwise achieve their personal objectives.”

The report alleged that the “inner circle” was made up of Krähenbühl, Deputy Commissioner-General Sandra Mitchell (who resigned from her post in late July), Chief of Staff Hakam Shahwan (who left the agency in early July) and Maria Mohammedi, Krähenbühl’s senior adviser.

UNRWA has been undergoing a funding crisis since the September 2018 decision by the US government, which previously provided 30 percent of its annual budget of $1.2 billion, to end all funding to the agency.

At the time, the State Department explained the move by sharply criticizing UNRWA’s mandate for perpetuating rather than resolving the Palestinian refugee question.

Meanwhile, Israel’s ambassador to the UN said on Tuesday that the UN’s internal report into UNRWA had revealed “alarming, but not surprising, findings.”

Danny Danon, Israel’s UN envoy in New York, charged that “in addition to propagating false information about its refugee population, UNRWA has in recent years worked to redirect world funds to continue this corruption industry that has served its leadership.”

The Israeli diplomat concluded that the “international community, which generously finances UNRWA, must immediately suspend the budgets assigned to the agency.”

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