New Zealand has recently announced it will contribute a further $1.5m to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in addition to its $1m annual contribution. This brings New Zealand’s total support to UNRWA in 2018 to NZ$3.9 million. Yet there has been no comment about the inefficiency, corruption, antisemitism, or perpetuation of the conflict associated with the UN agency.
UNRWA serves approximately 5.5% of the worldwide refugee population with approximately 15% of the UN budget for refugees because all other refugees in the world are taken care of by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
This disproportionate and inefficient spending is made worse when the actions of the two UN organisations are compared. The UNHCR promotes the idea of fostering resilience and independence so refugees are not reliant on aid forever. In keeping with that philosophy, in 2017 UNHCR helped resettle approximately 75,000 refugees and it was approximately 160,000 in 2016. UNRWA, in contrast, actively opposes resettlement and so the number of people UNRWA registers as refugees has increased from 750,000 in 1947 to over 5 million today.
The inefficiency of UNRWA is largely due to corruption and misappropriation of funds. One example of this is the UNRWA “cash assistance” program that in 2016 handed out $193m in cash to people in Gaza and Syria without any accountability or oversight for these disbursements. Furthermore, the Palestinian Authority spent $315m in 2016 alone on their “pay for slay” policy. The United Nations itself found that UNRWA was particularly vulnerable to “misappropriation, graft and corruption” in a recent internal audit. The UN audit also found that UNRWA’s oversight arrangements were deficient.
In August the United States withdrew funding to the “irredeemably flawed operation” in favour of “new models and new approaches” that would circumvent the “endlessly and exponentially expanding community of entitled beneficiaries”.
While the EU expressed concern about the impact of that move, European countries also expressed a need for reform within UNRWA – Switzerland’s foreign minister, Ignazio Cassis, said UNRWA is “part of the problem” because it fuels “unrealistic” hopes of return after 70 years and, therefore, keeps the Israeli-Palestinian conflict alive.
It is not only the promotion of a false “right of return” that keeps the conflict burning. UNRWA also runs schools where the curriculum includes a wrong, highly politicised, and unhelpful version of International Law in contravention of the UN charter. UNRWA school textbooks have recently been found to display extreme anti-Israel and anti-Jewish sentiments.
The antisemitism of UNRWA extends beyond its school textbooks. In 2014 during Operation Protective Edge IDF troops discovered terror tunnels that started in UNRWA facilities and UNRWA schools were used to store missiles. And in 2015, UN Watch released a report documenting UNRWA staff posting antisemitic material and supporting terrorism on social media. Furthermore, a 2011 film exposed corruption and antisemitism within UNRWA and a 2016 film showed the same practices continuing.
Sending millions of dollars to a corrupt organisation that works against peace does not seem in keeping with the MFAT commitment to “making our aid effective and to delivering value for investment of taxpayer funds”. Nor does it seem to align with Prime Minister Ardern’s comments about needing to “pursue equal rights for all” and indications that she thinks some areas of the UN need reform. Of all the areas of the UN that require reform, UNRWA would be a strong contender for the top spot.
Ms Ardern has recently defended sending $10m on aid to Papua New Guinea after its leader spent millions of dollars on a fleet of 40 Maseratis for APEC, saying New Zealand falls “well short” of other nations and that she’s confident none of New Zealand’s money went toward the luxury cars. She cannot be so sure no New Zealand money sent to UNRWA is being used for terror or the promotion of hate.