Response to media reports regarding letter forwarded to President Obama

28 February 2009

Commissioner-General’s Statement

28 February 2009 

The guards at UNRWA Headquarters front gate occasionally receive sealed envelopes addressed to persons outside Gaza. Generally, the practice is to forward such letters, in good faith. The letter addressed to President Obama (sealed and with a Palestinian National Authority return address) was handled in this way.

The Agency insists that there is no basis whatsoever for the allegation that it intended to provide support to, or act as a messenger for, any political or militant group. UNRWA, as a humanitarian and human development agency, maintains that this incident in no way detracts from its neutrality as a United Nations body.

The Commissioner-General deeply regrets any awkwardness that has ensued.

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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