Kemi Badenoch has defended the UK’s decision to suspend funding to the UN’s relief agency in Gaza.
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) has sacked a number of its staff who were accused of taking part in the October 7 attack on Israel.
Philippe Lazzarini, the head of UNRWA, said the decision by countries to suspend funding is “shocking” and “immensely irresponsible”.
The UK Foreign Office has said Britain is “appalled” by the allegations and has joined other nations including the US, Australia and Italy in temporarily halting funding while an investigation takes place.
Business Secretary Ms Badenoch said there is “clearly a problem” with UNRWA but insisted the UK has also sent aid to Gaza via other means and organisations, and will continue to do so.
Speaking to Sky News’s Sunday Morning with Trevor Phillips programme about the allegations, Ms Badenoch said: “(It’s) extremely serious and I think it’s quite right that we suspend payments to them.
“Whether the investigation is carried out by a separate arm of the UN or by other country governments I wouldn’t be in a position to state, but this is absolutely the right thing to do.”
She added: “We are funding other organisations, like the Red Cross, like Unicef. So, this isn’t the UN, this is one particular agency within the UN that had been operating in Gaza.
“The UK has been ensuring that we are able to send aid to the people of Gaza and that’s something that we want to continue to do. But there is clearly a problem with the UN’s (Relief and Works Agency) and it’s really important that we do something about that.”
In a statement on Saturday, UNRWA commissioner general Mr Lazzarini said: “It is shocking to see a suspension of funds to the agency in reaction to allegations against a small group of staff, especially given the immediate action that UNRWA took by terminating their contracts and asking for a transparent independent investigation.
Day in & day out -despite continuous bombardment, lack of access & displacement- @UNRWA colleagues keep doing everything they can to distribute urgent food & water, as well as providing life saving health services.
— UNRWA Partners (@UNRWAPartners) January 26, 2024
“The United Nations Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), the highest investigative authority in the UN system, has already been seized of this very serious matter.
“It would be immensely irresponsible to sanction an agency and an entire community it serves because of allegations of criminal acts against some individuals, especially at a time of war, displacement and political crises in the region.”
The relief agency has played a key role in providing aid for the enclave’s population amid the humanitarian disaster caused by Israel’s offensive in the wake of the October 7 attack.
Mr Lazzarini said it had ordered an investigation after Israel provided information alleging several employees played a role in Hamas’s assault.
The US state department said claims had been made against 12 employees.
UNRWA has 13,000 staff in Gaza, almost all of them Palestinians, ranging from teachers in schools that the agency runs, to doctors, medical staff and aid workers.