UN refugee agency a neutral Gaza ‘lifeline for millions’, says aid officer

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NZ aid worker Hector Sharp
NZ aid worker Hector Sharp . . . "nearly two million people of the 2.3 million residents [of Gaza are] completely dependent on UNRWA for their daily shelter, food and survival." Image: RNZ

RNZ News

A New Zealander working for the UN refugee agency for Palestinians says having countries pull funding is devastating.

Speaking from Geneva, Hector Sharp told RNZ Midday Report UNRWA was the only organisation with the ability to deliver the kind of aid needed in Gaza.

“We’ve been doing this for 75 years, so we’re quite good at it,” he said.

“In Gaza, we have nearly two million people of the 2.3 million residents completely dependent on UNRWA for their daily shelter, food, and survival.”

Sharp said what was happening now in Gaza was a man-made famine.

“This loss of funding comes at a time where UNRWA is a lifeline for millions of people,” he said.

Sharp said they were urging the countries that had cut funding to reverse those decisions.

He said the allegations of staff from UNRWA being involved in the October 7 attacks came as a shock.

“United Nations employees must remain neutral, independent, and impartial,” he said.

UNRWA is ‘humanitarian’
“UNRWA is a humanitarian agency — we don’t have a police force, we don’t have an intelligence service or a criminal justice capacity, so we have no authority to monitor what our staff do outside their work.

“But, we also don’t work in a vacuum, our staff are drawn from a population which is under ongoing occupation and we are aware of the neutrality risks that this poses,” Sharp said.

New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said it would review its contribution for the UNRWA, which is under fire after 12 of its staff allegedly took part in the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7.

The ministry said in a statement that this country had been providing UNRWA with $1 million a year in funding.

“As we always do prior to releasing funds, we will assess the situation again prior to that payment being made,” the statement said.

At least nine countries, including top donors the US and Germany, had paused funding after allegations by Israel about 9 staff (still alive) who had been dismissed.

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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