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Foreign Office faces legal challenge over pause in UNRWA funding for Gaza  

UK could be sued over decision to stop funding a key UN agency delivering aid to Gaza

Foreign Office legal challenge

A legal challenge is to be launched against the Foreign Office over its decision to pause funding for the UN’s Palestinian refugee agency. 

On behalf of a British-Palestinian man with family in Gaza, Bindmans LLP has issued a pre-action letter to the government department warning, if funding is not reinstated by Tuesday 2, April, the client will issue judicial review proceedings in the High Court. 

The legal challenge claims that the government’s decision to withdraw funds from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) on 27, January was decided, “illogically and without due consideration of evidence, of international obligations, or of FCDO decision-making frameworks”.

Funding was paused by 10 governments including Australia, the United States and Canada following allegations by the Israeli authorities that several UNRWA staff were involved in the October 7 Hamas attacks. 

Following the allegations, two investigations were initiated and the alleged staff were suspended. UN investigators are yet to receive sufficient evidence of the claims while countries including Australia, Canada and Sweden have since reinstated funding amid concerns about the worsening humanitarian crisis in Gaza. 

The International Centre of Justice for Palestinians (ICJP) has provided evidence and financial support for the client, whose parents are UNRWA-registered refugees and have already reported major shortages of food, water and essentials. 

It comes as over one million people in Gaza are expected to face ‘catastrophic’ levels of hunger with the UN warning of imminent famine in northern Gaza.

ICJP Senior Public Affairs Officer Jonathan Purcell said: “When the decision to withdraw funds was taken, it was illogical. Now, with Gaza staring famine in the face, it is unconscionable. The government must restore funding immediately, if it doesn’t wish to be complicit in the thousands of deaths by hunger and thirst which are, terribly, very likely to occur in the months to come.”

As the largest aid-provider for Palestinians, established in 1948, at least 50% of UK government aid to Palestinians has gone through UNRWA. 

Alice Hardy, Partner at Bindmans with conduct of the case, said: “The UK government’s strategy for international development sets out four priorities, including to: ‘provide life-saving humanitarian assistance and work to prevent the worst forms of human suffering’.

“Given the catastrophic situation in Gaza, including an impending, man-made famine, the ongoing decision to cease funding to UNRWA is not only morally wrong but flies in the face of that strategy.”

The Foreign Office was contacted for comment. 

(Image credit: Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office)

Hannah Davenport is news reporter at Left Foot Forward, focusing on trade unions and environmental issues

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