Is it right or wrong for Sweden to stop humanitarian aid to UNRWA? This has been discussed by several debaters over the past week. Photo on the left: UNIS Vienna. Pictured: Philippe Lazzarini, Commissioner-General UNRWA. Source: Flickr. Photo (right): Axel Öberg. Pictured: Sweden's Minister for Aid and Foreign Trade Johan Forssell (M). Source: Flickr.

Current debate

Week 5: Debaters disagree on the withdrawn aid to UNRWA

During the past week, several countries, including Sweden and the Swedish aid agency Sida, stopped humanitarian aid to the UN aid organization for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA. The background is that 12 employees at UNRWA suspected of involvement in Hamas attack on Israel on October 7. But Swedish debaters have disagreed on whether it is right or wrong to withdraw support for UNRWA.  

The debate during last week was divided on whether a withdrawal of aid is a reasonable response or something that risks worsening the humanitarian situation in Gaza.  

- Stopping support for UNRWA is not a sustainable solution. UNRWA must be given time to investigate and address the links to Islamist organizations. But the outside world cannot let the civilian population in Gaza down when they need help the most, writes Susanna Kierkegaard Aftonbladet's editorial page.

Similarly, Helena Lindholm, professor of peace and development research, and Nina Gren, university lecturer in social anthropology, reason in a debate article in SvD.  

- It is not possible to call this anything other than a collective punishment and it is a shocking act, they write.  

However, there are other debaters who see the decision to cut off support to UNRWA differently. 

- It is not possible to justify that aid money goes to an organization where employees took direct part in a terrorist attack, writes Mattias Svensson in a leader in Svenska Dagbladet. 

He believes that UNRWA is characterized by anti-Semitism and that there are documented cases of employees there who support terrorist acts. 

Even Fredrik Malm, Member of Parliament for the Liberals, believes that the decision to withdraw support for UNRWA is reasonable. In Svenska Dagbladet's podcast Editorial board he argues for gradually admitting refugees from UNRWA to UNHCR's mandate. Erik Lysén, director of Act Swedish Church, believes on the other hand that support for UNRWA is vital. He believes the decision to withdraw it is irresponsible given the current humanitarian situation in Gaza, where 20 to 25 percent of the 1,7 million people displaced are in a situation of starvation. He points out that even if other organizations receive the support, it is not certain that they will receive humanitarian access to Gaza and that it is up to evidence whether they can replace UNRWA. 

Sweden stops support to UNRWA 

Is it right to stop support for UNRWA? 

Fredrik Malm, Member of Parliament for the Liberals, Erik Lysén, head of the Swedish Church's aid organization Act, Svenska Dagbladet's podcast Ledarredaktionen 

Without aid to UNRWA, Gaza will collapse 

Susanna Kierkegaard, Editorial writer, Aftonbladet 

Sweden must not let the tormented children in Gaza down 

Jonna Sima, Editorial writer, Aftonbladet 

No Swedish aid to terror 

Mattias Svensson, Editorial writer, Svenska Dagbladet 

"Sweden contributes to collective punishment" 

Helena Lindholm, professor of peace and development research, Gothenburg University, Nina Gren university lecturer in social anthropology, Lund University, Svenska Dagbladet Debatt 

After this week, it is impossible for me to defend Israel's war 

Amanda Sokolnicki, Editorial writer, Dagens Nyheter 


UNRWA stands for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees. The refugee agency was established in 1949 to provide emergency aid to Palestinian refugees following the Al-Nakba in 1948, when around 750 Palestinians were driven from their homes. 

The UN agency provides basic health care, education, food distribution and infrastructure. UNRWA is also a major employer in the Middle East as the organization employs local Palestinian refugees as teachers, social workers, nurses and doctors and more.  

In the absence of a solution for the situation of the Palestinian refugees, the UN General Assembly has repeatedly renewed UNRWA's mandate, until 2023. UNWRA is financed by voluntary contributions from UN member states. In December, the Swedish government set aside SEK 400 million for UNRWA's work in 2024. 

Sources:, Dagens Nyheter  

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