UNRWA staff accused of stealing humanitarian aid for Palestinians: 'Corruption is widespread'

(Photo: Unsplash/Latrach Med Jamil)

A United Nations watchdog organization published a series of chat room posts by Palestinians purportedly accusing U.N. Relief and Works Agency staff members of stealing humanitarian aid intended for civilians and selling it or hoarding it in their homes.

On Wednesday, the Geneva-based non-governmental organization UN Watch published posts from a chat room run by former UNRWA employee Haitham al-Sayyed, who continues to run the chat rooms.

The NGO, accredited in special consultative status to the U.N. Economic and Social Council, reported that al-Sayyed was fired after he publicly criticized the agency for hiding a map at a UNRWA school that denied Israel's existence when U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon held a press conference.

The relief agency has come under increased scrutiny following reports that multiple employees participated in Hamas' Oct. 7 attack against Israel or have ties to terror groups. The allegations prompted up to 16 countries, including the United States, to suspend funding to UNRWA.

Despite al-Sayyed's firing in 2016, he still has an influence among the senior administration, and current UNRWA employees have been sharing their frustrations about the agency with him, according to UN Watch.

On Jan. 6, al-Sayyed shared a message sent to him by a UNRWA employee working at an emergency shelter at a school. The UNRWA employee stated, "the displaced people in the external shelter do not get their right to food and non-food aid, but rather it is distributed at night and sold in front of our eyes."

According to the unnamed agency worker, there was a period when the school went without working electricity for months after someone stole diesel fuel from the shelter. The UNRWA worker reported that "the thief was exposed, and the principal was informed, but to this day he is still working with us." 

"The biggest motivation to publish this letter is because of a young engineer with great morals who was in charge of the school," the agency worker wrote. "He was in charge of the store, and because he prevented the attempted theft in the store by the night administration, but then he was arbitrarily transferred on charges of embezzlement, this burned our hearts for him because he is the only trustee in the school." 

The UNRWA worker reported that a female teacher later put in charge of the morning administration did not take any steps to stop the thievery, adding that there are suspicions she is "complicit" in it. 

Another comment from a different group member named Dr. Izzat Shatat reported that a school director took 50 cartons of food distributed in UNRWA schools and sold the cartons to a merchant for 350 shekels, the equivalent of $100.

Mohammed Musa al-Sawalhi, another UNRWA employee, wrote in a Feb. 20 message that he had witnessed agency workers stealing aid and hoarding it in their homes and family members' homes. The UNRWA employee claimed that "80% of employees in the shelters have no morals or dignity" and that the family member of one director was caught on video stealing aid. 

"When will the directors of UNRWA centers in schools, especially Rafah Preparatory Girls School B, stop stealing the food and needs of the displaced?" one group chat member named "Deema Deema" wrote on March 1.

UN Watch described a "heated debate" that erupted in the chat room on March 22. Multiple UNRWA employees were reportedly upset that other agency workers would not allow them to access the medicine cabinet reserved for UNRWA staff, which some employees were allegedly hoarding for themselves. 

"From the past wars, I knew some employees personally, and I trusted them to be good people, but the soul is evil," a member named Ahmed Hassan wrote. "Some of them were stealing on a daily basis as if it were a prize. This war revealed a lot and some of it was documented with photos, videos, and audio."

During another discussion on March 8, a member named Mohammed al-Azeeb wrote that "Corruption is widespread."

"Employees of the shelters stole and sold from underneath the shelters, and district officials rummaged through the aid cartons and stole the items, and their brothers sold them to the poor," the member stated. 

UNRWA didn't respond to The Christian Post's request for comment by press time. 

As the U.S. was previously the largest contributor to UNRWA funding, Republican U.S. Rep. Brian Mast and Democratic Rep. Josh Gottheimer introduced legislation Tuesday to recover federal funds provided to the United Nations agency. 

Although the U.S. government froze UNRWA's funding earlier this year, as Congress passed legislation to defund it in March, the agency already received $121 million in U.S. tax dollars. 

"For way too long, UNRWA has masqueraded as a relief organization, while in reality serving as an incubator for Palestinian terrorists. Intelligence reports indicate that as many as ten percent of UNRWA workers have direct links to Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihadists," Mast said in a statement. 

"It's ludicrous that our hard-earned American tax dollars were going to fund this crap. The State Department needs to do everything it can to recoup this money."

Late last month, UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini said that most donor countries resumed their contributions. The agency has received at least $115 million in private fundraising, with Lazzarini citing the "extraordinary grassroots solidarity expressed towards Palestinians."

"[I]n all Member State briefings, they are recommending other countries to support UNRWA, and we still wait, otherwise, the decision of other countries," Lazzarini said during an April 30 press conference. 

"The good news also on the funding is that we have new donors, or countries who, before, never contributed to the Agency."

Courtesy of The Christian Post.