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Head of UN agency for Palestinian refugees resigns amid misconduct probe

Pierre Krahenbuhl, Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), attends a news conference in Geneva, Switzerland 29 January 2019.
Pierre Krähenbühl, head of the UN’s agency for Palestine refugees. (Denis Balibouse/Reuters)

The head of the UN’s agency for Palestine refugees, Pierre Krähenbühl, has *resigned during an ongoing investigation into alleged abuses of power at the organisation, it was announced Wednesday.


Krähenbühl’s resignation from the post of commissioner-general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) is “effective immediately”, a spokesperson for UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in a statement.


An earlier statement from the Secretary-General’s office said Krähenbühl would be placed on “administrative leave” after the preliminary findings of an inquiry into allegations against UNRWA had found “managerial issues that need to be addressed”.


The statement said the investigation “exclude[d] fraud or misappropriation of operational funds” on Krähenbühl’s part.


Krähenbühl, a Swiss national, will be temporarily replaced by Christian Saunders, who was appointed UNRWA’s acting deputy commissioner-general in August.


The UN’s Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) has been looking into the agency following the submission of a report from UNRWA’s internal ethics office that reportedly alleged “abuses of authority for personal gain, to suppress legitimate dissent and to otherwise achieve their personal objectives”.


Krähenbühl, who has led UNRWA since 2014, “unreservedly” rejected the characterisation of the agency and its senior leadership in July comments to Al Jazeera, which first reported the allegations. 


Depending on where they live, many of the around 5.4 million registered Palestine refugees in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Gaza, and the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) are eligible for education, medical care, camp housing, and other services from UNRWA.


UNRWA lost its largest donor last year, when President Donald Trump announced the US would no longer fund the aid agency. In January, Krähenbühl told The New Humanitarian that some 40 countries had increased their donations to fill the gaps left by the US policy shift.

In September, Guterres appealed for countries to fill UNRWA’s remaining funding gap of $120 million for the rest of 2019.

Earlier on Wednesday, before the announcement of the resignation, UNRWA said Krähenbühl had “stepped aside until the completion of the [inquiry] process”.


(*UPDATED: This story was updated to reflect the announcement of Krähenbühl’s resignation. An earlier version said he had ‘stepped aside’ until the inquiry was completed.)





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