Switzerland resumes payments to Palestinian refugee agency

Palestinian refugees in Jordan get ready for their first day at the Amman New Camp preparatory school in 2018. UNRWA-funded schools and health clinics cater to more than five million Palestinian refugees in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, the Gaza Strip, West Bank and East Jerusalem Keystone / Amel Pain

The Swiss foreign ministry has lifted its temporary freeze on payments to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). 

This content was published on December 20, 2019 - 10:02

Switzerland had suspended payments to UNRWA in July amid allegations of misconduct among its top management. 

On Friday, the foreign ministry confirmed Swiss news reports that it had decided on December 12 to allocate CHF700,000 to ongoing UNRWA projects and CHF2 million to emergency aid programmes in Syria and the occupied Palestinian territories.

“In view of the measures taken and the confirmation by the UN Secretary-General [Antonio Guterres] that no donor funds were misappropriated, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) decided to resume payments,” a Swiss foreign ministry spokesperson told 

Switzerland has been a member of the agency since its beginning in 1949 and had already allocated CHF22.3 million before the summer freeze. 

In July, a confidential report by UNRWA’s ethics office alleged cases of mismanagement and abuse of power by a small group of senior officials who had allegedly circumvented UN control mechanisms. 

There were allegations that UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl, a Swiss national in charge at UNRWA since 2014, had also fast-tracked a female member of staff with whom he was romantically involved. Krähenbühl roundly rejected the charges and claimed that the investigation at the agency had cleared him of allegations.  

But he eventually resigned in November 2019, saying he had been a victim of serious political attacks. He referred specifically to undue pressure from a United States official in May, and hinted that this was part of a concerted effort to undermine UNRWA. 

Despite the scandal, UNRWA continues to enjoy wide support from other countries. On December 13, the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly renewed its mandate for another three years by 169 votes in favour and nine abstentions, while the US and Israel voted against.

UNRWA provides education, health, housing and relief services to more than five million registered refugees in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, as well as in neighbouring countries Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.  

The agency has faced budgetary difficulties since last year, when the US - its biggest donor - halted its aid of $360 million per year. The US and Israel have both accused UNRWA of mismanagement and anti-Israeli incitement.

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