Under the patronage of His Excellency the President of the Council of Ministers Mr Najib Mikati, an inauguration ceremony took place today for package 1, the first package of houses delivered to the displaced families of Nahr el-Bared camp, and three UNRWA schools. Jointly hosted by the Lebanese-Palestinian Dialogue Committee (LPDC), the Embassy of Palestine in Lebanon, and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), the ceremony was attended by representatives of the Lebanese government, the Palestinian community, high-level donor delegations as well as NGOs and other UN agencies.
Thanking UNRWA, the Lebanese government, and the donor community, the Ambassador of Palestine to Lebanon Dr Abdallah Abdallah said: “We affirm on this occasion that we as Palestinians in Lebanon, and in Nahr el-Bared in particular, hold tight to maintaining the best of relations with our kind Lebanese neighbours. Proceeding from this relationship, we call to mind how important it is that our brethren in this camp enjoy freedom of mobility on entry and exit, and that the fabric of social and economic ties with the surroundings be recovered.
"We are confident that the government of Lebanon will be a solid source of support for this course of ours, which is in the interest of the sovereignty and stability of Lebanon and respect for its laws.” In addition to this, Ambassador Abdallah announced a new donation of US$ 2 million from the PLO for the reconstruction of NBC and invited all the donors to do the same in order to speed up the reconstruction of the camp.
In his address on the occasion, the representative of the President of the Council of Ministers, Minister of Social Affairs Wael Bou Faour, paid tribute to all the martyrs of the Lebanese army, saluted the Palestinian community, and reiterated the commitment of the Lebanese government to rebuild Nahr el-Bared camp and to continue its fundraising efforts. He added: “The Lebanese government will endeavour to end the suffering of the Nahr el-Bared displaced and improve the living conditions of all Palestinian refugees in Lebanon in order to enable them to live in dignity, until their return.”
“We are extremely grateful to all of our stakeholders for their support in helping to rebuild Nahr el-Bared camp. The government of Lebanon has remained a strong supporter throughout the process and we would not have reached this stage without them or the unwavering commitment of UNRWA’s generous donors,” said Filippo Grandi, UNRWA Commissioner-General, in his address during the ceremony.
Addressing the refugees, Grandi said: “I continue to be humbled by the dignity, and strength, demonstrated by the refugees of Nahr el-Bared, despite the intolerable conditions of their prolonged displacement. While today is an important milestone, much more remains to be done to help the thousands of refugee families who remain displaced from Nahr el-Bared after more than four years. I therefore appeal to our donors, particularly those in the region, to continue with their generous contributions to UNRWA so that the Agency can expedite the rebuilding of shelters and improve living conditions, until such time as a just and lasting solution to the refugees’ plight has been achieved.”
EU ambassador to Lebanon Mrs Angelina Eichorst said: “Our presence today is a sign of our commitment towards the Palestinian refugees who continue to live in very challenging conditions, therefore I join UNRWA’s Commissioner-General Filippo Grandi in calling on the Lebanese government to facilitate access to the camp.”
The representative of the Saudi Fund for Development, Engineer Hassan Al Attas, reiterated in his address the strong support of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the relief operations and specifically to Palestinian refugees in all host countries. He said: “The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia donated US$ 3 billion over the past years to support Palestinians through the Palestinian Authority and through UNRWA and other organisations.” Mr Al Attas announced a new contribution of US$ 10million, in addition to the SFD’s contribution of US$ 25 million to packages 2 and 3.
Mr Suleiman Jasir El Herbish, the Director General of the OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID), which funded two UNRWA schools in Nahr el-Bared, said: “The Palestinian cause is one of OFID’s priorities and will always remain so. OFID believes that the most powerful weapon in the hands of the Palestinian youth is education.” He added: “In the Vienna Conference, we pledged to construct these two schools that we are inaugurating today. I can assure you that we will be the first present at any upcoming donors’ conference.”
Mr Ahmed Al Hatti, the Director General and Chairman of Cayan, which funded the reconstruction of one school, said: “The Palestinian community enjoys exemplary courage and dignity but what they need is hope that one day their suffering will end.” He added: "One year ago, the construction of a new school in NBC seemed a far-fetched dream. But today it came true.” He also thanked the Welfare Association for making this contribution possible by highlighting the great need.
Two Palestinian students concluded the ceremony by saying: “We suffered for four very long years from the loss of our homes, displacement, deprivation, harsh living conditions and rising unemployment. This is finally a great and historical day for the Palestine refugees in Lebanon and the refugees of Nahr el-Bared camp in particular. We affirm that our attachment to the camp is for no other reason than that we hold tight to the right of return and consider it a bridge to achieving this return stipulated in UN Security Council Resolution 194. We urge you all to support projects that breathe life again into the camp, which was a commercial marketplace of the area. Here we ask the government of Lebanon to work to resolve the problem of entry and exit by permits, and we call upon all the concerned to speed up the construction of the camp.”
The ceremony ended with singer Ahmad Qabour who chanted Ramallah and Oum El Fahm.
UNRWA today launched a new appeal to fund its 2012 activities in Nahr el-Bared camp, amounting to US$ 10 million and to support vulnerable Palestine refugees in Lebanon. Thus, UNRWA is seeking an additional US$ 15 million to carry out relief and recovery activities for vulnerable Palestine refugees throughout Lebanon in 2012. Overall, the Agency has secured around 40 per cent of its funding needs for 2012. The Agency is seeking approximately US$ 26 million to meet its funding shortfall for next year. UNRWA hopes that additional funding will be mobilised to allow the Agency to implement projects in the areas of infrastructure, health care, education, employment and relief services for all Palestine refugees living in the camps throughout Lebanon.