25 August 2019
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) was established in 1949 to deal exclusively with approximately 750,000 Arabs displaced as a result of Israel’s defensive 1948 War of Independence.
In contrast to the UNHCR, that looks after all other refugees in the world, UNRWA has a different definition of “refugee” and actively opposes resettlement. Today, there are over 5.5m people served by UNRWA.
There have been continuing, serious allegations and findings of corruption, links to terror groups, a perpetuation of the conflict, and egregious antisemitism from UNRWA staff.
Traditional allies of New Zealand, like the USA, Canada, EU countries, and Australia have condemned some of the controversies and some countries have suspended funding.
Over the past decade, New Zealand taxpayers have contributed more than NZ$10m to UNRWA. Officials have not publicly acknowledged the controversies and continued to only praise UNRWA for its work. There has been no public comment on any need for reform within the agency or condemnation of antisemitism from any New Zealand official.
Internal New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) documents show that MFAT staff repeated UNRWA excuses and explanations without challenge or any attempt at independent research. There seemed to be political reasons for not acknowledging egregious failures within UNRWA.
MFAT staff also apparently accepted reports that have whitewashed concerns. Discussions of issues or a need for reform was not minuted, not given in briefings to Ministers, and/or has not been publicly discussed or acknowledged for taxpayers to consider.
The Israel Institute of New Zealand recommends that New Zealand suspend funding to UNRWA and stop voting for the UNGA resolutions in support of UNRWA until there is a demonstrable commitment to:
- ending corruption;
- removing inciteful material from schools and appropriately disciplining staff that encourage violence; and
- conforming to the Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees definition of a refugee.
New Zealand should also work to achieve a similar voting pattern and responsible aid giving from allied countries.
After seeing a draft copy of this report, MFAT responded by saying “New Zealand will not make any further payments to UNRWA until we have reviewed the report’s findings and assessed UNRWA’s response to any recommendations.” It is time for New Zealand to reconsider ongoing, unconditional support for UNRWA.
The report is based on documents obtained under the New Zealand Official Information Act.