Reports & Researches

(Witness): Suspension of UNRWA funding, a collective punishment on 5.9 million Palestinian refugees with looming ramifications

(Witness): Suspension of UNRWA funding, a collective punishment on 5.9 million Palestinian refugees with looming ramifications

The Palestinian Association for Human Rights (Witness) warns in its recent report that the suspension of UNRWA’s funding imposes a collective punishment on millions of Palestinian refugees with serious repercussions looming in the horizon. The report comes in the wake of the suspension of several donors’ financial support for UNRWA after allegations of involvement by some of its employees in the October 7 attacks. Notably, these countries contributions make up over 78% of the total funding. This suspension comes at a critical time, as Palestinian refugees, especially those in Gaza, face urgent needs exacerbated by ongoing military actions conducted by the occupation forces.

The report findings were presented by Dr. Mahmoud El Hanafi, the director of the association, during a press conference held at the Lebanese Press Syndicate in the capital, Beirut in the presence of NGOs representatives and a gathering of journalists.

 The purpose of the report was to highlight UNRWA's legal authority as stipulated in United Nations General Assembly Resolution 302/1948 and to emphasize the agency's capability to fulfill its international obligations towards Palestinian refugees across the five operation areas. Additionally, the report sought to underscore the agency's crucial role during the Israeli war on Gaza, emphasizing its skilled workforce and extensive experience in supporting Palestinian refugees in times of both conflict and peace. The report warned donor nations and host countries about the grave consequences of this decision in the near future.

According to the report, UNRWA stands as a living witness to the Nakba, serving as a vital lifeline for 5.9 million Palestinian refugees under its mandate across its five operation areas. Despite its critical importance to millions of refugees, UNRWA has faced direct and explicit targeting for years. The report concluded with the following key findings:

1.      Statistics shows the substantial ramifications of the suspension of UNRWA funding on the lives of Palestinian refugees in all areas of their presence. This includes profound effects on education, healthcare, relief aid, and infrastructure. The cessation of funding is expected to exacerbate poverty, illiteracy, and unemployment rates among Palestinian refugees.

2.      The agency's inability to fulfill its international obligations towards refugees will significantly impact the host countries, which already grapple with severe and compounded economic and social crises.

3.      The suspension of UNRWA funding because of alleged acts of individuals will impact millions of refugees. This is classified as a form of ‘collective punishment’ and may amount to a war crime.

4.      Indications suggest that since the Oslo Agreement in 1993, Israel has been reinforcing the idea that UNRWA is no longer necessary. Instead, it suggests that the world should prioritize the establishment of a Palestinian state, with openly stated plans in this regard by multiple officials. Israel has taken advantage of its genocidal war on Gaza to further its campaign against UNRWA.

5.      For years, the agency has been facing chronic funding shortages, resulting in accumulation of debts year after another. This crisis has been reflected on the quality and quantity of services provided to Palestinian refugees.

6.      The suspension of funding by donor countries coincides with a decision by the International Court of Justice that has displeased Israel, indicating a clear response from these countries in favor of Israel. These are the same countries that have turned a blind eye to the occupation's crimes against UN facilities, the deaths of more than 150 UN personnel, and the targeting of the agency's own shelters for displaced persons.

7.      Arab contributions to UNRWA’s fund don’t exceed 5.1%, barely sufficient to meet the minimum needs of refugees and can’t compensate the sharp deficit caused by the suspension of funding from major donors (78%).

The report presented key recommendations, including:

*      Urging countries to immediately reconsider their decision to suspend UNRWA funding and to increase their financial contributions to address the chronic deficit, ensuring the agency's continued operation and provision of vital services to refugees.

*      Calling on the international community to ensure the continuity of UNRWA's work (both politically and in terms of services) and to provide international protection for Palestinian refugees.

*      Urging support for the International Court of Justice's decision issued in 2024, which called for the provision of humanitarian assistance to Palestinians in Gaza.

*      Calling for the formation of an international inquiry committee to investigate the targeting of United Nations facilities, including UNRWA centers, and the deaths of more than 150 UN staff members.


For full report, visit the link:



February 6,2024

The Palestinian Association for Human Rights (Witness)