Australia’s UNRWA Funding Cuts: A Death Sentence for Palestinians in Gaza and Region


ActionAid, which is currently providing relief and support in Gaza and the wider region, is deeply alarmed and concerned by the decision of some of the world’s wealthiest nations, including Australia, to suspend funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA).

“This reckless action by Australia and other governments spells a death sentence for millions of Palestinians in Gaza and the surrounding region, intensifying an already catastrophic humanitarian crisis for millions of people. Funding cuts for UNRWA will also have broader regional consequences for Palestinian refugees residing in Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon, where essential humanitarian aid is crucial,” said Michelle Higelin, Executive Director of ActionAid Australia.

ActionAid welcomes UNRWA’s investigation related to the allegations involving a small group of UNRWA staff members in the October 7th attacks, however, we strongly denounce the callous choice to punish an entire population by some of the very nations that previously called for increased aid and protection for humanitarians in Gaza. The withdrawal of funding by donor countries is nothing short of a death sentence for approximately two million civilians, with over half of them being children who depend on UNRWA aid in Gaza to survive.

“All children under five in Gaza – 335,000 – are at high risk of severe malnutrition as the risk of famine increases by the day. This heartless decision will strip away life-saving assistance at a time when civilians face the grim reality of starvation, impending famine, and the spread of diseases exacerbated by Israel’s relentless indiscriminate bombardment and calculated deprivation of aid in Gaza,” said Michelle Higelin.

In its ruling last week, the International Court of Justice ordered that “Israel must take immediate and effective measures to enable the provision of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance to address the adverse conditions of life faced by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip”. It is the duty of all countries who signed the convention to ensure that these measures that are aimed at preventing irreparable damage to the rights of Palestinians are upheld. The only way that this can be done is through cooperation with international partners, especially UNRWA, the largest humanitarian actor in Gaza.

With more than 152 UNRWA staff already killed and more than 141 UNRWA facilities lying in rubble or irreparably damaged by the relentless bombardment, UNRWA is a vital lifeline for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. It is the largest humanitarian organisation in the region and plays an indispensable role in providing vital aid. UNRWA staff, many of whom have experienced multiple displacements in Gaza, are risking their lives every day to facilitate aid distribution in the region. Cutting their jobs would represent a setback in expanding the delivery of essential aid to Gaza and will inevitably result in many local staff losing their only source of income in a humanitarian emergency. Without these thousands of dedicated staff members, reaching those in need with the necessary assistance would be impossible.

“At a time when some one million displaced Palestinians are seeking refuge in or around 154 UNRWA shelters, the agency, along with other aid organisations, has bravely persevered in providing life-saving humanitarian assistance such as food, vaccinations and fresh water amid unimaginable difficulties,” said Michelle Higelin.

“Australia’s decision to suspend funding is tantamount to a death sentence for Palestinians as they are deprived of essentials such as food, water, medical aid, education and protection. This role cannot be taken on by any other organisation, so suspending funding is a decision that puts the lives of millions of innocent people at risk.”

“ActionAid joins with other humanitarian agencies to urge the donor states to reverse this decision. It is outrageously irresponsible to sanction an organisation and collectively punish the entire community it serves because a few individuals are accused of criminal acts, especially at a time of war, displacement and unprecedented humanitarian needs.

“We call on the Australian Government and other donor countries to honour their commitments to the Palestinian people and increase their humanitarian aid immediately. If they withdraw their support now, the already dire humanitarian crisis will escalate into a catastrophe of unimaginable proportions,” said Michelle Higelin.


/Public Release.