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This morning we saw reports that 1 in 5 pregnant women in Gaza are malnourished and almost 16% of children under the age of two (one in six infants) are acutely malnourished or wasting in northern Gaza.

These reports come on top of previous advice that people are having to eat animal food and ninety five percent of households are restricting meals, with the risk of stunting in children rising. 

The World Health Organisation says they have never seen a population made to go so hungry so quickly. 

Clearly, the humanitarian situation on the ground is catastrophic.

This week, my office received a briefing from Thomas White, Director of UNRWA Affairs in Gaza. Thomas shared with us the steps that UNRWA takes to ensure that its workers maintain neutrality, as is expected of all humanitarian workers. He explained that UNRWA takes a zero tolerance approach to any breaches of that requirement for neutrality. 

He advised us that immediately upon receipt of the allegations from the Government of Israel, UNRWA dismissed the 9 workers who were still in its employ, and deployed three experienced investigators from its New York office to Gaza to conduct a robust investigation. However, upon their arrival, the Government of Israel did not respond to requests for engagement on the allegations. 

Given the seriousness of the allegations, I also welcome the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) conducting a review, and a further independent review body being appointed, led by Catherine Colonna, the former Minister of Foreign Affairs of France working with independent research organisations.

However, it is clear to us that in the interim the need for funding for UNRWA is critical. Their operations will collapse by the end of March if they do not receive urgent funds. 

UNRWA advised that it has provided all the information it can to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade about the actions taken to deal with the allegations, and it is unclear what further assurances it can provide and what actions it can take to secure the urgent restoration of funding. 

UNRWA is the backbone of the humanitarian infrastructure in Gaza, responsible for primary health, shelter for over 1 million people, food for 2.2 million people and communicable disease control. All humanitarian aid organisations have been unanimous in saying that without UNRWA, it will be impossible to deliver aid at the scale that is needed. There is no alternative.

It is also imperative that the Australian Government redoubles its efforts to support people seeking to flee the conflict zone, just as we have done elsewhere around the world. My office also received a briefing from Amnesty International Australia this week. I share their deep concerns about the apparent disparity between our government’s approach and that of other allies like Canada. 

While appreciating the difficulties being faced at the border under the control of Israeli and Egyptian authorities, concerns have been raised with me that very few names of family members of Australians are being added to the border crossing list.

Similarly, to the end of December last year, we saw only 301 Palestinians arrive in Australia out of 2127 issued visas. At the same time we understand Australia has stopped extending consular services to non-immediate family members.

I have today written to the Foreign Minister calling on the Australian Government to:

  • Continue to advocate for the release of hostages who have now been held captive for almost five months and for a permanent ceasefire. 

  • Given the emergency situation, restore aid funding to UNRWA immediately, and commit more aid while UNRWA continues to work on ensuring that the serious allegations made by Israel are investigated. It is important that Australia’s respected international voice is used to support UNRWA at this critical time for the Gazan people - the collapse of UNRWA would be catastrophic.

  • Provide consular services to non-immediate family members with Australian visas seeking to leave Gaza and continue to advocate with authorities for more people with Australian visas to be allowed to evacuate Gaza.

  • Consider providing recently arrived Palestinians with the option of applying for a 786 Safe Haven Visa and facilitate additional emergency intakes as we have done for people fleeing war in Ukraine for example. We should have a consistent approach to offering such measures, regardless of the country or conflict zone of origin.

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