Former UNRWA head wins Spanish Peace Prize

27 January 2011

24 January 2011
Madrid

Karen Abu Zayd, the former Commissioner-General of UNRWA, has been awarded the annual Peace Prize of the United Nations Association in Spain (ANUE). In a ceremony in Barcelona, the jury recognised Abu Zayd’s strong commitment to resolving the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Abu Zayd served as Commissioner-General of UNRWA until December 2009.

Every year since 1980, the ANUE has awarded the Peace Prize in recognition of the merits of an individual or organisation showing outstanding dedication to UN values; the peaceful settlement of conflicts, human rights, and fundamental freedoms. The award, supported by the City of Barcelona, was presented at a ceremony on Monday evening at the City Hall.

Announcing this year’s winner, the jury praised Abu Zayd’s work over many years and through very difficult conditions. In particular, they highlighted the achievements of UNRWA’s education programmes, including the achievement of near-total literacy among refugees.

Receiving the award, Abu Zayd paid special tribute to the 30,000 Palestinians working at UNRWA – “the teachers, medical staff, social workers, sanitation workers, administrators” – and to the refugee community that they serve.

“They are the true heroes who deserve to be honoured,” she said, “for their determination, and firmly held belief that one day justice will be realised for Palestine and Palestinians, and peace and stability will come to the Middle East.

“This Prize is especially meaningful, coming from United Nations Spain and Barcelona, as your country, your region and your city have been so unfailingly supportive of the Palestine refugees and of UNRWA.”

Abu Zayd announced her intention to donate the EUR18,000 prize to UNRWA’s Spanish Committee, which she called “a shining example for United Nations friends’ groups in other countries. Their conscientious, imaginative and very successful outreach and advocacy serve as a model for others to emulate.”

Karen Abu Zayd began her humanitarian career in Sudan in 1981 with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), where she worked for 19 years. She was educated at DePauw University in Indiana and McGill University in Canada, where she gained a Masters in Islamic Studies. Later she became professor of political science and Islamic studies at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda and taught at the University of Juba, Sudan.

In 2000, Abu Zayd was appointed Deputy Commissioner-General of UNRWA. In 2005, she took over as Commissioner-General, a position in which she would serve until 2009. During these years, from the UNRWA headquarters in Gaza, she oversaw the full range of the Agency’s work throughout the region, including education, health care, social safety-net, camp improvement, community support, microfinance and emergency response.

UNRWA Spanish Committee
The Spanish Committee of UNRWA is the first national committee that UNRWA created. Established in 2005, its two key objectives are to inform the Spanish population about the living situation of 4.7 million Palestinian refugees and UNRWA’s humanitarian work with them over the past 60 years. The Committee raises public and private funds to support UNRWA in maintaining the quality of services provided to Palestinian refugees.

Visit the Spanish Committee’s website

Visit the Spanish-language campaign Cadena de Ayuda Humanitaria (Chain of Humanitarian Aid). UNRWA’s Spanish Committee started Cadena de Ayuda in response to the humanitarian situation faced by refugee children in Gaza. The funds raised will help thousands of children in Gaza Strip improve their health, education and nutrition.

For more information, contact:

Cristina Poveda
Telf. 0034 91 702 70 59
Móvil: 0034 625 21 78 74
prensa@unrwace.org

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.

For more information, please contact: