14 May 2009
Yesterday UNRWA was honoured to welcome Pope Benedict XVI to Aida refugee camp near Bethlehem where thousands had gathered to hear the Holy See deliver a message of hope and solidarity to the Palestine refugees.
The Papal visit coincided with two significant anniversaries. On May 15th Palestinians will mark 61 years of exile and continuing dispossession with Al Nakba day. In yesterday’s address Pope Benedict noted that, the Palestine refugees’ "legitimate aspirations for permanent homes, for an independent Palestinian State, remain unfulfilled."
May 15th is also the day that UNRWA will launch "UNRWA at 60" a series of events that will commemorate the Agency's 60th anniversary. In his speech Pope Benedict called for all stakeholders to work for peace and non-violence and urged Palestinians, Israelis and the international community to strive for a just and lasting solution to the conflict. UNRWA's six decades of work with Palestine refugees makes it a vital agent of peace and stability in the Middle East. Through programmes that attend to fundamental human development needs, the Agency has contributed to the stability of Palestine refugee communities and the communities that host them.
By far the largest of UNRWA's programmes is Education. UNRWA provides over half a million Palestine refugee children and youth with free education. Moreover, in all UNRWA schools a special human rights, tolerance and conflict resolution programme is taught in addition to the local curriculum. This programme was developed by UNRWA to ensure that refugee children know the rights to which they, and all individuals, are entitled. The programme also includes practical activities, such as drama workshops and the establishment of student parliaments, which mean students are able to put into practice what they have learnt about conflict resolution and democracy.
On the occasion of the Pope's visit to Aida camp, his pledge of EUR 50,000 to UNRWA was announced. This generous contribution will benefit Palestine refugees in Aida camp, and pays for three new classrooms at Aida Boys School. UNRWA welcomes this support for its educational programme. In his speech Pope Benedict noted that a commitment to education is an expression of "hope in the future". UNRWA shares this sentiment and, through the Agency’s educational programme, is committed to providing Palestine refugees with the tools they need for ensuring a better future for themselves and their communities. Furthermore, UNRWA’s Commissioner-General Karen Abu-Zayd also expressed the hope that, 'we trust that your message will resonate with those entrusted with the privilege of political authority and encourage them to work together to achieve a just and lasting peace.’
Some 4.6 million Palestine refugees in UNRWA’s five fields of operations – Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem – are eligible for Agency services, including education, healthcare, social services, shelter, micro-credit loans and emergency aid. UNRWA employs nearly 30,000 staff, the vast majority of whom are Palestine refugees. UNRWA’s operations are financed almost entirely by voluntary contributions from donors. The Agency’s regular budget for 2008-2009 is $1.1 billion, which covers the recurrent costs of the Agency’s education, health and relief and social services activities. UNRWA’s headquarters are in Gaza City and Amman.
UNRWA Arabic Spokesperson
Office: +972 (0)2-589-0724
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The Commissioner-General’s papal statement
The full Pope’s speech (PDF)