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Polaris of Enlightenment

Monday, June 17, 2024

Polaris of Enlightenment

Norway and Sweden at odds over UN funding

The situation in Gaza

Published 4 February 2024
- By Editorial Staff
Swedish Foreign Minister Johan Forssell and his Norwegian counterpart Espen Barth Eide.

Sweden, along with several other countries, has decided to cut off all funding to UNRWA – the UN Relief and Works Agency in Palestine. This follows reports that several of the organization’s employees were involved in the October 7 attacks on Israel.

Norway, however, chose to do the opposite, describing UNRWA as a lifeline for nearly two million people in Gaza” and appealing to the world not to “collectively punish millions of people” for the actions of individuals.

“Thousands of civilians have been killed, including children, more than 150 UNRWA staff, as well as teachers, doctors, journalists and countless others who are not parties to the conflict. There are food and water shortages, and access to health care is woefully inadequate. UNRWA is a lifeline for nearly 2 million people in Gaza”, Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide said in a press release.

He explained that Norway has decided to continue its funding – while taking the allegations very seriously. He also urged others to reconsider and not cut funding “at this time of humanitarian need”.

“We must distinguish between what individuals may have done and what UNRWA stands for. UNRWA has 30,000 employees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. 13,000 of them work in Gaza, distributing aid, saving lives and ensuring that the population’s basic needs and rights are met. The people of Gaza are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance and must not pay the price for the actions of others”, he continued.

Sweden rejects UN panel

His Swedish counterpart, Johan Forssell, takes the opposite view, saying it is “a very wise decision by the government” to stop funding altogether.

– The government is taking this information very seriously. Swedish aid money should always go to the right organizations and never get close to terrorism, he continues.

He vows that “every single crown” taken from Swedish UNRWA funding will instead go to other aid organizations, such as the World Food Programme and the Red Cross.

In a written statement to the Swedish news agency TT, the help organization Save the Children regrets Sweden’s decision.

“UNRWA is the largest humanitarian actor in Gaza and its distribution cannot be quickly replaced by other organizations on the ground. The children are living in the middle of a nightmare, and for us and other actors to reach them with the massive aid they need, there must be a durable ceasefire”, writes Cecilia Chatterjee-Martinsen, International Director at Save the Children.

In a debate article in Bonnier newspaper Expressen, Janine Alm Ericson, the Swedish Green Party’s (Miljöpartiets) spokesperson on aid policy, calls for an immediate reversal of Forssell’s decision, calling it “barbaric” and saying it puts Sweden “on the wrong side of history”.

“The Swedish government and Sida should immediately reverse their decision to freeze contributions to UNRWA. Withdrawing support for the agency, which today is the only hope for hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in pitch-black darkness, is cynical and puts us on the wrong side of history”, she writes.

UNRWA

The relief organization was established in 1948 following the Arab-Israeli war that led to the creation of the modern state of Israel and the displacement of some 750,000 Palestinians.

Since its inception, the aim of the organization has been to assist and protect Palestinian refugees, mainly in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Today, around 5.9 million people receive assistance from UNRWA in various ways.

The organization has about 30,000 employees, the vast majority of whom are Palestinians - and about 90 percent of the funding comes from UN member states, where both Sweden and Norway have historically been major contributors.

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