Statement by Karen Koning AbuZayd, UNRWA Commissioner-General

24 September 2009

High Level Event, Inaugural Session
Trusteeship Council, New York, 24 September 2009

Mr. President, President Abbas,
Excellencies, distinguished guests,

I thank you all for gracing this unique occasion with your presence. I offer a special welcome to his Excellency President Abbas for honouring us and for his support for Palestine refugees. As we gather here as friends of UNRWA, we come together also as allies of the 4.6 million Palestine refugees we serve in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the occupied Palestinian territory. These refugees now constitute the largest and longest-lasting refugee situation in the world.

When sixty years ago, the General Assembly established UNRWA, it was for the purpose of supporting and assisting these refugees. In the unadorned language of UNRWA’s founding resolution, the General Assembly tasked UNRWA to provide "direct relief and works programmes", pending a just and lasting solution of the refugees’ plight. The simplicity of the terms in which UNRWA’s mandate was cast spoke to a more profound purpose. That deeper significance was linked to the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights only a year before UNRWA was established, and to the creation of the United Nations itself.

By establishing UNRWA, the community of States created an agency whose work would demonstrate in meaningful terms - and in the Palestinian context - the compassion and humanity which underpin the purposes and principles of the United Nations. Today, as we meet six decades after UNRWA’s creation, it is essential to use the opportunity to underscore the continuing relevance and validity of UNRWA’s role in preserving the dignity of Palestine refugees, thus discharging the international community’s obligations towards them and helping to advance the objectives of the United Nations Charter.

Our anniversary is an occasion to recognize that UNRWA has not stood still these sixty years past, but has evolved into the premier humanitarian and human development agency in the Middle East. The refugee assistance and protection tasks entrusted to us by the General Assembly ensure that Palestine refugees benefit from services in the areas of primary education, vocational training, primary health care, a social safety-net, infrastructure and camp improvement services, microfinance and emergency assistance.

These programmes go a long way to help defend and preserve the human rights of Palestine refugees, while enhancing their opportunities to acquire knowledge and skills, to lead long and healthy lives and to enjoy decent standards of living. Together, our programmes deliver much more than the sum of their parts, and in ways that have long-term benefits for refugees and the communities in which they live. By promoting the capacity for self-reliance of those we serve and widening their choices for sustainable livelihoods, UNRWA contributes to the human development of Palestine refugees and to the human capital of the Middle East.

In a region in which armed conflict and its consequences still occur with worrying frequency, UNRWA’s emergency response interventions in Lebanon and the occupied Palestinian territory have gained increasing importance over the years. In times of crisis, through the courage and dedication of our staff, UNRWA helps save lives, offering refuge in its facilities for displaced civilians as well as food, essential supplies, care for the injured and a measure of comfort for the traumatized and bereaved.

The cumulative impact of UNRWA’s role – its programmes, protection work, extensive field operations and emergency interventions – is to serve as a calming influence, a stabilizing presence in a region of tensions and turbulence. Wherever we operate, UNRWA embodies the values of the United Nations – tolerance for diversity, neutrality, impartiality, non-violent resolution of disputes and respect for the human rights of all. In this way, it nurtures the elements for an environment in which the attitudes and values essential for peace take root and thrive.

I call on your Excellencies to acknowledge that Palestine refugees also deserve applause. The harsh experience of dispossession and exile has not dimmed the refugees’ drive for self-improvement and self-sufficiency, their love for learning or their thirst for high achievement. These qualities, coupled with their legendary fortitude, inspire them to derive full benefit from UNRWA’s human development programmes.

On this occasion, I cannot fail to mention, with deep respect and gratitude, the generous support accorded UNRWA and Palestine refugees. It is with genuine empathy and great sacrifices that the government and people of Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority have hosted Palestine refugees. And it is by virtue of their extraordinary generosity and understanding of refugee needs that donor countries have so freely and consistently given their financial support. This partnership between host countries and the international donor community is the bedrock of UNRWA’s achievements.

While contributions past and present are appreciated, I strongly appeal to the international community to furnish the levels of financial and political support UNRWA requires to serve Palestine refugees better. Given the consensus on the significance of UNRWA’s mission, not least in terms of contributing to regional stability, it is unacceptable that UNRWA should currently be facing a grave funding deficit that threatens its ability to continue delivering services. We trust that the interest generated by this commemoration will soon be translated into higher levels of donor generosity to UNRWA.

Your Excellencies,

I conclude my statement with a call to the international community to redouble its efforts to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and with it, the plight of Palestine refugees. I ask also that we solemnly renew our commitment to ensure the refugees’ enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms as stipulated in relevant international instruments. The protracted exile of Palestine refugees and the dire conditions they endure, particularly in the occupied Palestinian territory, cannot be reconciled with State obligations under the United Nations Charter.

We welcome the possibilities and renewed hope arising from recent international attention to the conflict. UNRWA stands ready to play its constructive and enabling role to ensure that the Palestine refugee voice is heard and that their interests and choices are reflected in any future agreement.

Allow me, in closing, once again to welcome you and thank you for your presence, contributing to the success and significance of this commemorative event.

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$ 56 million.

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US$ 30 GIVES COUNSELLING TO A TRAUMATISED CHILD