UNRWA reply to today’s article in the Wall Street Journal, “Defund the UNRWA"

01 April 2011

1 April 2011

Dear Wall Street Journal Editor,

Your article published today, “Defund the UNRWA”, builds its case on a foundation of misinformation and recycled falsehoods. We are, in fact, a neutral United Nations humanitarian organisation helping some of the most disadvantaged people in the troubled Middle East region.

The authors cite two “UNRWA” sporting tournaments which were named after “a suicide bomber” and a “terrorist”, based on erroneous media reports. Those reports were promptly retracted. The authors suggest that UNRWA should do as UNHCR does and resettle refugees. In fact, the preferred solution for UNHCR is voluntary return of refugees. They go on to state that UNRWA facilities are “hotbeds of anti-Israel, anti-Western and anti-Semitic indoctrination”. Nothing could be further from the truth. UNRWA‘s staff undertake to uphold the values of the United Nations. All staff are subject to a range of processes and mechanisms to ensure their neutrality, including the provision of staff lists to states, including Israel. Allegations of inappropriate staff behavior are investigated and where wrongdoing is established disciplinary action is taken, up to and including dismissal. Our neutrality mechanisms are regularly reviewed by our donors to their satisfaction. This is a matter of public record. Do the authors really believe that UNRWA’s two largest donors, the United States and the European Union, would continue to fund the Agency if they believed there was any truth in these false accusations?

To defund UNRWA is to deprive Palestinians of education, health care and aid for those in poverty. Fortunately, the falsehoods in this article are not lost on our donors who continue to support us generously, realising the value of our work and the stability it brings to the Middle East.

Yours sincerely,

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$ 69 million.

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