President calls on countries that have cut off aid to Palestinian refugee agency to change their minds

Catastrophe in Gaza can be avoided, says Michael D Higgins, who praised Government’s decision to increase aid to Unrwa

President Michael D Higgins has appealed to countries that have withdrawn aid from Unrwa, the United Nations agency that provides support to Palestinian refugees, to “think again” and provide “desperately needed support” to prevent “catastrophe” in Gaza.

Sixteen countries, including Canada, the United States, United Kingdom and Australia, withdrew support for the relief agency in February following allegations that some staff members were involved in the attack on Israel in October by Hamas and other militant groups from Gaza. More than 1,000 Israelis were killed in the attack, most of them civilians, including children, and more than 250 people taken hostage.

Ireland has increased the aid it is giving to the relief agency, something which the Irish people can be proud of, Mr Higgins said.

“One wonders how the representatives of those countries who have withdrawn funding from Unrwa can look on as young infants struggle to live, infants whose lives could be saved by having such basics as bread and water,” the President said.


“Some of the most experienced and qualified experts familiar with what is happening in Gaza are saying that famine looms, with young children in particular heavily at risk and needing bread and clean water. Their mothers and close relatives listen to their cries in what must be conditions of unbelievable stress.”

Mr Higgins made his appeal in a statement issued following an address by the UN secretary general, António Guterres, to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, where Mr Guterres called on countries that had cut off aid to reverse their decision.

The President noted how the secretary general had said a completely insufficient level of aid was getting in to Gaza and that an all-out offensive by Israel on Gaza would “put the final nail in the coffin of [the Unrwa] aid programmes”.

The commissioner general of Unrwa, Philippe Lazzarini, said in Geneva that famine in Gaza could be avoided if there was genuine political will to grant protection to the delivery of meaningful assistance.

“As President of Ireland, I would appeal to those countries who have withdrawn aid to think again and to provide the desperately needed support to Unrwa’s 30,000 staff in the region and 13,000 staff in Gaza so we can avoid this catastrophe,” Mr Higgins said.

“While negotiations on a necessary permanent ceasefire are proceeding, I repeat Ireland’s call once again for an immediate ceasefire and the release of all hostages. Children must not be abandoned to die as the facts of these situations are carried on the television screens of the world.”

The weakening of Unrwa was undermining the United Nations itself, Mr Higgins said. He said the secretary general had pointed again to how the Security Council’s failure to respond with agreed resolutions both to Israel’s military operations in Gaza following the “horrific attacks” by Hamas, and following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine two years ago, had, as Mr Guterres said, severely, perhaps fatally, undermined the council’s authority.

In his address, Mr Guterres said that from Ukraine to Sudan, to Myanmar, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Gaza, parties to conflict were turning a blind eye to international law, the Geneva Convention, and even the United Nations Charter.

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Colm Keena

Colm Keena

Colm Keena is an Irish Times journalist. He was previously legal-affairs correspondent and public-affairs correspondent