Six Decades of Service to Palestine Refugees
1 May 2010
Sixty years ago today, the first aid workers with the then-fledgling United Nations Relief and Works Agency arrived on the ground to assist some 750,000 Palestine refugees. This anniversary is one to be marked solemnly because the reason for UNRWA’s existence is the continuing absence of a just and lasting solution to the plight of Palestine refugees.
Also, however, it is an occasion to recall UNRWA’s contributions to a better life for Palestine refugees, creating opportunities for self-reliance for millions of them through education, health care, microfinance, social services and camp improvement programmes.
“UNRWA is unique among humanitarian actors in offering services directly to refugees in times of peace and war. Looking back, we are proud of our achievement. Looking forward, our commitment to Palestine refugees will remain steadfast pending a just and lasting solution of their plight. Then there will be no need for UNRWA,” said Commissioner-General Filippo Grandi. “As we pass this important milestone in the history of UNRWA, I salute the commitment and compassion of the Agency’s staff, including those who gave their lives in the cause of serving Palestine refugees.”
In the fields of health care, education, microfinance, social services and camp improvement, UNRWA has broken new ground throughout its 60-year history. In its areas of operation (Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the West Bank), UNRWA has seen an eight-fold reduction in infant mortality from the 1960s to the present time, exceeding World Health Organization targets for middle income countries.
In 1951 the proportion of female pupils in UNRWA schools stood at 26 per cent, but gender equality was achieved in the 1960s and has been maintained ever since. In 1962 UNRWA opened the Ramallah Women’s Training Centre, the first vocational training centre for women in the Arab world, which has equipped thousands of highly qualified women for competitive job markets throughout the world.
UNRWA’s Microfinance Department, created in 1991, has provided services to over 20,000 refugees who have received over 100,000 loans, setting them on the path to self-reliance and prosperity. The Agency’s relief and social services programme, which supports some of the most vulnerable groups in the Middle East, has established 65 women’s centres and 37 community rehabilitation centres, serving women, people with disabilities, the young and the elderly.
Today UNRWA serves up to 4.7 million registered refugees. The majority of its 30,000 staff are teachers, working in schools across the Middle East for some 500,000 students. UNRWA, of course, remains an effective provider of humanitarian and emergency assistance when conflicts erupt, like last year in Gaza. “But with renewed emphasis on better education, on vocational training more tailored to market needs, on microfinance, and on preventive health, UNRWA – more than ever – is an organisation that helps refugees improve their conditions, seize opportunities for prosperity and self-reliance, and above all live in hope and dignity in this turbulent region,” said Grandi.
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