Closing Remarks by Filippo Grandi, Commissioner-General of UNRWA at the Advisory Commission Meeting

20 November 2013
Closing Remarks by Filippo Grandi,  Commissioner-General of UNRWA  at the Advisory Commission Meeting

Dead Sea, Jordan

Mr Chairman,

Thank you all for your kind words. I will share them with all my colleagues, who have made possible the achievements that you mentioned.

As I said yesterday, this is the last Advisory Commission meeting that I will attend.   The Office of the United Nations Secretary-General will announce my successor very soon, after which we will be able to inform you of the date of the transition.  Please be patient a little longer, till the details are available.

Meanwhile, let me share a few thoughts to conclude this session of the Advisory Commission.

Thank you for yet another good, productive meeting, which was well led -- with positive energy -- by our Chairman and Deputy Chairman.  It has been extremely rewarding over the last eight years to see this group become more and more effective.  We are also grateful to the Advisory Commission Secretary, Secretariat and all staff, especially from the External Relations and Communications Department, who contributed to the good functioning of this process.

I do not wish to repeat what has been said by the Field Directors yesterday, but want to underscore again our urgent worry for Syria’s trapped refugee communities, especially in Yarmouk, the challenges posed to Lebanon by the refugee flow, and our concerns about an impending social and economic implosion of Gaza with grave consequences for its population and for the security and stability of the region.

My strong appeal to you is once more for additional contributions to the General Fund in 2013.  December's salaries are at a very real risk and I beg you to help us avoid delaying their payment.    

The Medium Term Strategy is the most important joint endeavour for the next year.   It must represent a confluence of different interests and agendas.  It will require that you understand each other’s perspective and give consensual advice to UNRWA and its new Commissioner-General, so that Palestine refugees are afforded effective protection and provided with quality services.

Dear friends:

Today starts – somehow – my farewell to UNRWA. It will be a difficult goodbye, after more than eight intense years. There will be more opportunities to meet you individually before I go, but I would like to take this opportunity to simply say a few words of thanks.

I say this with much emotion.  I am proud to have served UNRWA for almost a decade of UNRWA's six decades.  I owe so many thanks, and cannot mention them all.  But I want to say thank you – a very sincere thank you – at least to some:

To host countries, whose hospitality remains the most important contribution to refugee survival and welfare. Before leaving, I will visit them all. But for now, special thanks to my friend, Ali Mustafa, who - we should not forget - ably and forcefully led this Advisory Commission in the delicate early stages of reform, and to Dr Zakaria Al-Agha and Mrs Alya Al-Ghusain. The terms of all of them on this Commission certainly pre-date mine by a long shot.  Jordan has been a key partner and a gracious host to so many of these meetings, and I am extremely appreciative of Lebanon's invigorated participation and leadership, thanks also to Dr Khaldoun el Cherif.

Our relationship with Palestine of course is a special one and I would like to thank President Mahmoud Abbas, and wish him strength and fortitude to continue to serve his people and lead them to a brighter future, in which Palestinians can live in peace in their state, and refugees find a just solution.  

To donors, especially those that have supported us loyally - the European Union and its member states represented here, the United States, Norway, Switzerland, Japan, Australia and Turkey - they have remained strongly supportive of UNRWA and Palestine refugees, even in difficult economic times. This is much appreciated.

To donors in this region, especially Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and more recently Qatar, who are substantial contributors to projects, but whom I would like to strongly encourage to also support our basic programmes - or  more precisely, 7.8% of these programmes!

To new donors, to whom I reiterate:  the Palestine refugee question is “regional”, but it is part of a conflict with global ramifications.  Support to UNRWA and to the refugees should therefore be global, and Asia, Latin America, Russia should follow the good lead of Brazil.  I also especially praise Japan for the CEAPAD initiative in Asia.

To the Secretary-General of the UN, Ban Ki-Moon, and his senior advisers, my colleagues, for their constant support.

To the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, Dr Nabil Elaraby, who (like his predecessor) has been an advocate of UNRWA in the region, and a friend to me.

To my good friend and predecessor, Karen AbuZayd, who showed the way in how to make UNRWA a strong defender of Palestinian refugee rights, and a better provider of services to them.

To my deputy, Margot Ellis, whose hard work in running the Agency day-to-day, and in coordinating the Syria response, has been made much harder by her boss never being at his desk.

To my directors, for their commitment, their excellent contributions, for advising me well, even when the advice was difficult, and for their friendship, in spite of long management committee meetings.

To my Executive Office, for bearing with me everyday, and patiently living with my requests, moods, uncertainties and changes of travel plans.   A special word also to some of those who served the Executive Office before, especially Michael Kingsley, our previous Chief of Staff, and Rob Hurt and Dustin Okazaki, my previous Special Assistants.

To the UNRWA staff unions, for reminding me all the time - sometimes forcefully - that staff entitlements and rights are essential, especially in an organization where staff is so central to our work.  I leave them with the recommendation that they cooperate positively and realistically with my successor and work together for the good of refugees.

And most important of all, to all staff of UNRWA, in offices, in the camps, in clinics, in schools, in training centres, in warehouses, in workshops.... They are the ones who actually do what we discuss here - and in doing their work, sometimes under difficult circumstances, they have inspired me constantly.  They (and especially the Palestinian staff) have also been - for me - the interpreters of a complex reality, where so much escapes the superficial eye; and the closest example of the steadfastness which is the real Palestinian lesson to the world.

I wish my successor strength, courage and determination.  These are qualities, certainly, for the job of Commissioner-General.  I will advise thoughtfulness – because every decision has many consequences.  I will also advise strong bonds of communication with staff and especially refugees – trust is necessary for weathering the rough waters ahead.   And above all, I will advise commitment to the cause of Palestine refugees, until such time as a peaceful, just and lasting solution to this question can be found.

I hope to be back to celebrate with you that day.

Background Information

UNRWA is a United Nations agency established by the General Assembly in 1949 and is mandated to provide assistance and protection to a population of some 5 million registered Palestine refugees. Its mission is to help Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank and the Gaza Strip to achieve their full potential in human development, pending a just solution to their plight. UNRWA’s services encompass education, health care, relief and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, and microfinance.

Financial support to UNRWA has not kept pace with an increased demand for services caused by growing numbers of registered refugees, expanding need, and deepening poverty. As a result, the Agency's General Fund (GF), supporting UNRWA’s core activities and 97 per cent reliant on voluntary contributions, has begun each year with a large projected deficit. Currently the deficit stands at US$ 68.2 million.

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