Carl Hetu of CNEWA says the Canadian government's decision to restore funding to a U.N agency that supports Palestinian refugees "will make life easier for all aid agencies." CNS photo/ Muhammad Hamed, Reuters

Canada's funding boost to U.N. agency that supports Palestinian refugees applauded

  • November 24, 2016

A federal government decision to restore funding to a United Nations agency that supports Palestinian refugees is being applauded by a Catholic aid group.

International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau restored Canadian funding on Nov. 16 to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for Palestinian Refugees. Canada was the only G7 country not contributing to UNRWA after the previous Conservative government accused the agency of colluding with Hamas in 2010. Canadian funding was cut off in 2012.

The new funding includes $20 million to support UNRWA schools, clinics and social services and another $5 million for UNRWA projects that support Palestinians caught up in the war in Syria and surrounding areas.

“This will certainly make life easier for all aid agencies,” said Carl Hetu, national director of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association Canada, responding by email from the Holy Land.

A better-funded UNRWA could mean Church agencies won’t be filling in the gaps of underfunded UN services, he said.

“Additionally, it will free up some private donor funds which in recent years stepped in to cover the deficits, directly affecting some of our funding sources,” Hetu said. “The UNRWA funding will free us up to do more. Indeed, all is complementary.”

The Canadian reversal, which fulfills a 2015 Liberal campaign pledge, drew an angry response on several fronts, including the Conservatives and B’nai Brith Canada.

“UNRWA has a track record of problematic behaviour that can be clearly construed as collaborating with Hamas and indoctrinating Palestinian youth to believe that violent struggle takes precedence over establishing peace,” B’nai Brith Canada CEO Michael Mostyn said in a release.

The Jewish human rights organization accuses UNRWA of allowing its school properties to be used to store weapons, sanctioning anti-Jewish school textbooks and employing staff sympathetic to Hamas — an organization designated a terror group under Canadian law.

Conservative foreign affairs critic Peter Kent said he was “horrified” by the funding move, adding that UNRWA is part of the problems in the Middle East.

Hétu said that operating humanitarian programs in a conflict zone is always complicated, but funding UNRWA is far from taking sides in the Israeli-Palestinian stand-off.

“Funding UNRWA isn’t a political decision, but a humanitarian one of compassion in the same way as helping Syrian and Iraqi refugees is,” said Hétu.

Bibeau argued that funding UNRWA is in the interests of the entire region, including Israel.

“Palestinian refugees across the Middle East have the right to receive basic services, such as health care, and to send their children to school,” said Bibeau in a release. “We want to see Palestinian refugee children in classrooms where they can learn universal values of tolerance and respect.”

Canada had been a contributor to UNRWA since it was set up in 1949. It runs 685 schools, 137 primary health care facilities and programming for refugee women at 61 centres.

The extra $5 million for the Syrian regional crisis will go to emergency programs UNRWA runs for more than 450,000 Palestinian refugees in the conflict zone.

Comments (1)

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

So the UNRWA doesn't support the Hamas any more?

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