Statement by Filippo Grandi, UNRWA Commissioner-General

02 August 2010

Jerusalem, 2 August 2010

Today marks the first anniversary of the eviction of 11 Palestinian families from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah. On this sad occasion, I met with representatives of the families affected by what was – and continues to be - an example of the grave invasion of fundamental rights that occurs all too frequently in the occupied Palestinian territory. I listened to the representatives as they described the emotional distress and the virtually irreversible damage done to their livelihoods and to their ability to sustain themselves and their families. I expressed UNRWA’s solidarity for their plight and our commitment to continue to do everything in our power to address this.

It is a matter of deep concern that Palestinians, who have already endured extreme suffering of various kinds, including multiple episodes of large-scale displacement, should remain subject to the humiliation of the kind inflicted by forced evictions and home demolitions. I reiterate my call to the Israeli authorities to allow affected families to return to their homes and to ensure that the rights and freedoms of Palestinians - refugees and non-refugees alike – are defended, protected and promoted in accordance with Israel’s international law obligations. I remind the international community that they too have responsibilities to ensure that Israel meets its international obligations.

It is also a matter of grave concern that the treatment meted out to the 11 families in Sheikh Jarrah reflects the experience of Palestinians and Palestine refugees in other areas of occupied East Jerusalem, including Silwan, Beit Hanina, the Old City and in Sheikh Jarrah itself where many live in constant fear of demolitions and evictions.

I refer in particular to a recent instance in the Old City, where armed Israeli settlers accompanied by Israeli police took over the majority of rooms in a building while its Palestinian residents were away attending a wedding. I condemn this action and fully support the UN Special Coordinator’s call for the re-instatement of the Palestinian residents in the building which has been their home for decades.

Under an emergency programme funded by ECHO, UNRWA has already provided emergency assistance to the families from the Old City, including cash assistance. To the families of Sheikh Jarrah we have provided cash assistance and other services. UNRWA will continue to support these displaced families as appropriate and will continue to advocate for their protection under international law.

Ends

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 million.

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