Pope’s visit to Aida refugee camp sows "hope for the future"

14 May 2009

14 May 2009
East Jerusalem

Yesterday UNRWA was honoured to welcome Pope Benedict XVI to Aida refugee camp near Bethlehem where thousands had gathered to hear the Holy See deliver a message of hope and solidarity to the Palestine refugees.

The Papal visit coincided with two significant anniversaries. On May 15th Palestinians will mark 61 years of exile and continuing dispossession with Al Nakba day. In yesterday’s address Pope Benedict noted that, the Palestine refugees’ "legitimate aspirations for permanent homes, for an independent Palestinian State, remain unfulfilled."

May 15th is also the day that UNRWA will launch "UNRWA at 60" a series of events that will commemorate the Agency‘s 60th anniversary. In his speech Pope Benedict called for all stakeholders to work for peace and non-violence and urged Palestinians, Israelis and the international community to strive for a just and lasting solution to the conflict. UNRWA‘s six decades of work with Palestine refugees makes it a vital agent of peace and stability in the Middle East. Through programmes that attend to fundamental human development needs, the Agency has contributed to the stability of Palestine refugee communities and the communities that host them.

By far the largest of UNRWA‘s programmes is Education. UNRWA provides over half a million Palestine refugee children and youth with free education. Moreover, in all UNRWA schools a special human rights, tolerance and conflict resolution programme is taught in addition to the local curriculum. This programme was developed by UNRWA to ensure that refugee children know the rights to which they, and all individuals, are entitled. The programme also includes practical activities, such as drama workshops and the establishment of student parliaments, which mean students are able to put into practice what they have learnt about conflict resolution and democracy.

On the occasion of the Pope‘s visit to Aida camp, his pledge of EUR 50,000 to UNRWA was announced. This generous contribution will benefit Palestine refugees in Aida camp, and pays for three new classrooms at Aida Boys School. UNRWA welcomes this support for its educational programme. In his speech Pope Benedict noted that a commitment to education is an expression of "hope in the future". UNRWA shares this sentiment and, through the Agency’s educational programme, is committed to providing Palestine refugees with the tools they need for ensuring a better future for themselves and their communities.  Furthermore, UNRWA’s Commissioner-General Karen Abu-Zayd also expressed the hope that, ‘we trust that your message will resonate with those entrusted with the privilege of political authority and encourage them to work together to achieve a just and lasting peace.’

About UNRWA

Some 4.6 million Palestine refugees in UNRWA’s five fields of operations – Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem – are eligible for Agency services, including education, healthcare, social services, shelter, micro-credit loans and emergency aid. UNRWA employs nearly 30,000 staff, the vast majority of whom are Palestine refugees. UNRWA’s operations are financed almost entirely by voluntary contributions from donors. The Agency’s regular budget for 2008-2009 is $1.1 billion, which covers the recurrent costs of the Agency’s education, health and relief and social services activities. UNRWA’s headquarters are in Gaza City and Amman.

Christopher Gunness
UNRWA Spokesperson
Mobile: +972-(0)54-240-2659
Office: +972-(0)2-589-0267

Sami Mshasha
UNRWA Arabic Spokesperson
Mobile: +972-(0)54-216-8295
Office: +972 (0)2-589-0724

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The Commissioner-General’s papal statement

The full Pope’s speech (PDF)

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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