Statement in response to Haaretz article "How to prevent disaster"

23 May 2011

23 May 2011

Sir,

Your recent article by Yisrael Harel (19 May 2011) on the funding of UNRWA is both heartening and disheartening.

It is disheartening because it suggests that the de-funding of UNRWA would somehow “solve” the refugee “problem”. This ignores not only the realities on the ground, but also international law, UN resolutions and all internationally accepted paradigms for solving the Arab-Israeli conflict, which hold that the “refugee issue” is to be resolved in the context of a just, durable and comprehensive peace, based on two states enjoying secure and recognised borders. Only when that has been achieved - a responsibility of the political actors - will there be discussions about handing over UNRWA services. In the meantime, the Agency will continue to bring human development to refugees, nurturing in the next generation the belief in a dignified, secure and peaceful future. We will continue through our education programmes to share UN values with 500,000 children in UNRWA schools across the Middle East.

The article is heartening because UNRWA has long called for the refugee issue to be discussed and resolved by the parties to the conflict. The “Arab Spring” and the “Nakba Day” protests have taken that debate onto the streets, making even more urgent an informed discussion among the peace-makers. As we have long argued, the voice of the refugees must be heard and their grievances addressed if there is to be peace. The lesson of the Arab Spring is that if we wish for peace stability and security, then we must heed the peaceful calls for justice and inclusion. Your article shows that the need to resolve the refugee issue is as urgent as ever. Ignoring the refugees is no longer an option.

Yours faithfully,

Chris Gunness
UNRWA Spokesman

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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