Ireland’s Unrwa pledge sends strong signal to EU nations of ‘unwavering political support’ for Palestinian people, says UN commissioner

Unrwa can only be phased out when ‘genuine, lasting and fair political situation’ is found for Palestinian refugees, says Philippe Lazzarini

Ireland’s €20 million pledge for the UN Palestinian refugee agency (Unrwa) sends a strong signal of “unwavering political and financial support” to other European countries who have paused their funding for the organisation, Unrwa commissioner general has said.

Philippe Lazzarini told The Irish Times the State’s financial support for the Palestinian people also sends a message to the European Union that “countries like Ireland expect the contribution of the commission, which is due in early March, will be processed”. The €20 million is the highest amount ever pledged by the State to the UN body.

Mr Lazzarini, who met Tánaiste Micheál Martin in Dublin on Thursday, said Unrwa had already “taken into consideration” the EU contribution (€82 million annually) as part of cash flow management and that it was “absolutely critical the money arrives on time”.

“If we do not have a reversal of some of the pauses we will start to be into the red from March and that will significantly accelerate from April,” he said.


If the commission does resume funding, it will also send a signal “that there is trust in the agency”, he added.

Several nations, including Germany, Italy, the UK and the US, have paused payments to Unrwa following allegations by Israel that 12 of its staff were involved in the October 7th Hamas-led attack on Israel which sparked the bombardment of Gaza.

The UN has launched an independent investigation into the claims, while the UN secretary general has indicated he will share initial observations after four weeks, said Mr Lazzarini. Israel had to date failed to co-operate with the investigation and provide evidence of Unrwa staff’s involvement with the October 7th attacks, he added.

On the deteriorating situation in Rafah, and calls by Israel for Palestinians to evacuate the Gaza Strip’s southernmost city, Mr Lazzarini said everything pointed to Israel putting “huge pressure on these people to cross the border into Egypt”.

“If there would be an offensive in Rafah in the middle of a sea of 1.5 people million, what is the alternative?” asked the commissioner. “The last 4½ months have proven that there is no real safe place for anyone in the Gaza Strip. The question is, will they be again moved around in totally unsafe places, or will the pressure be such that people will be tempted to cross the border into the Sinai dessert (in Egypt)?”

He added that “daily security incidents, the harassment of population, a bleak economy and the activities of settlers” were bringing the West Bank to “the brink of implosion”.

Mr Lazzarini said Israeli calls to dismantle Unrwa would only deepen the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and that ending the agency’s operations would “only make sense on the day when you have a functioning Palestinian state and a political solution”.

“The entire raison d’être of Unrwa has been to be temporary, but unfortunately we’ve been a lasting temporary,” he said.

Unrwa was established in 1949, with the support of Israel, to “provide critical public services to Palestinian refugees until the day there is a proper genuine, lasting and fair political situation,” said Mr Lazzarini.

“If this temporary organisation has lasted for so long, it’s also the expression of our collective failure to promote a proper political solution,” he said. “The only answer to phasing out Unrwa is to ensure we have a proper political package on the table which would finally offer the Palestinians their aspiration for self-determination.”

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Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak is an Irish Times reporter and cohost of the In the News podcast