Letter to the Editor: UN agency responds

09 April 2009

9 April 2009

National Post (Canada). Andrew Whitley

Re: We‘re Funding Terrorists, Haskell Nussbaum, April 6.

This column is a farrago of politically motivated distortions, inaccuracies and falsehoods about the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which is responsible for helping millions of Palestinian refugees lead decent, productive lives. The charge that Hamas will control the agency‘s schools in Gaza following its claimed victory in local staff association elections is wrong. Staff elections are conducted on an individual-- not party list -- basis for unions that handle normal labour relations --not political--issues. However, in response to Hamas‘ public boast, the field director has informed those elected that evidence of political ties will constitute grounds for immediate dismissal. In the past two years, five staff have been dismissed in Gaza on similar grounds.

Management control at UNRWA rests firmly in the hands of international officials dedicated to upholding impartiality and promoting UN norms and principles, including fundamental human rights. Tight controls ensure that aid and other services such as health and education only go to eligible persons, and attempt to prevent abuse of UNRWA facilities by any party.

The analogy with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is equally misleading. Our two organizations apply exactly the same principles of individual choice over the options all refugees face of return to one‘s country of origin, local integration or resettlement. Faced with continued political deadlock over the fate of those driven from their homes in British Mandate Palestine 60 years ago, no organization could compel the Palestine refugees to give up their rights prior to a comprehensive, final settlement.

Andrew Whitley, director, UNRWA Representative Office, New York.

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 more than US$ 106  million.

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