Secretary-General Praises Agency as ‘Beacon of Hope’

24 September 2009

Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees Commemorates 60th Anniversary With High-Level Event at United Nations Headquarters

Commissioner-General, President of Palestinian Authority Also Speak

New York, 24 September 2009

A high-level commemoration of the sixtieth anniversary of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) today highlighted not only the stabilizing presence of an Agency created in 1949 to carry out direct relief for Palestine refugees, but the ongoing hardships endured by more than 4.5 million people.

At a meeting that capped a week’s worth of events meant to commemorate the Agency’s 60 years of service and achievement, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon praised the Agency as a “beacon of hope” for Palestine refugees, adding that its work was even more important given the mixed results in addressing the political dimensions of the Middle East conflict.  At the same time, it faced severe funding shortages and he urged the international donor community to escalate funding for a unique Agency faced with shrinking financial resources and an expanding workload.

Mr. Ban suggested the Assembly might review an arrangement, in place since 1974, by which the United Nations’s regular budget covered only a small portion of the Agency’s costs, and voluntary contributions comprised the rest.  He called on all Member States to renew their support for UNRWA’s good work until a durable solution to the refugee problem was reached.  This solution would be an integral part of a comprehensive agreement resulting in two States living side by side, he said.

Opening the high-level segment of the commemoration event, the Foreign Minister of Norway said UNRWA provided a lifeline and hope for Palestinian people deprived of basic standards of living.  The Agency offered the face of humanity in a region torn by conflict and violence, as it provided a moderating influence to the radical groups that tapped into the frustrations of suffering people.

The President of the Palestinian Authority said the sixtieth anniversary was an occasion for solemn reflection on the continuing hardships endured by Palestine refugees, the reason for the Agency’s creation.  Its humanitarian assistance had been indispensable and provided stability, especially during periods of conflict and upheaval.  He thanked the various Commissioners-General who had led UNRWA over the years, as well as its international staff, and the continuing efforts of Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the donor community, to support the Agency’s work.

The Commissioner-General of UNRWA viewed the anniversary as an opportunity to recognize the Agency’s evolution into the premier humanitarian and human development Agency in the Middle East.  By promoting the refugees’ self-reliance, the Agency had developed the region’s human capital and its emergency response interventions had helped save lives while providing food and comfort to the refugees.

She added that it was unacceptable that the Agency faced a severe funding deficit that threatened its ability to deliver services and she trusted that the interest generated by today’s commemoration would quickly translate into higher levels of donor generosity.

Speaking on behalf of the European Union, the Minister for International Development Cooperation of Sweden stressed the Agency’s stabilizing presence and said its chronically underfunded budget demanded increased international attention.  It was the international community’s shared responsibility to support UNRWA both politically and financially.

The Foreign Minister of Jordan outlined the special problems faced by countries hosting the Palestine refugees.   Jordan, for example, was the host country for the largest number of refugees and bore a large financial burden.  UNRWA’s resources were essential and he urged the international community to support the Agency financially, which would reduce the host countries’ financial burdens.

The event included two panels under the theme of “Contributing to a Better Future:  UNRWA’s Record and the Road Ahead”.  The first panel focused on the Agency’s role as an investment in the Middle East peace process, while the second panel focused on the Agency’s role in ensuring human security and basic rights during a prolonged refugee crisis.

Also speaking today were the Foreign Ministers of Guyana (on behalf of the Group of Latin American and Caribbean Countries), Japan (on behalf of the Asian Group), Portugal (on behalf of Western European and Other States), Algeria (on behalf of the African Union), Lebanon and Syria.

Statements were also made by Deputy Foreign Ministers of Poland (on behalf of the Eastern European Group), Saudi Arabia (the current Vice-Chair of UNRWA’s Advisory Commission), and Egypt (Chair of UNRWA’s Advisory Commission).  The Assistant Secretary of State of the United States and the Deputy Director-General for External Relations of the European Commission also spoke.

Opening Statements

Opening the event, the President of the General Assembly, ALI TREKI, said that the meeting served to remind the world of a simple truth:  “Throughout the Arab- Israeli conflict, we have upheld our conscience and principles by supporting the conflict’s most vulnerable victims, the Palestine refugees.”  When United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) was established on 8 December 1949, there were no votes opposed to the resolution and, to this day, the Assembly offered near-universal support for the Agency’s work and for renewing its mandate.  That shared commitment to the well-being of the Palestine refugees was a welcome departure from the political impasse that often seemed to characterize United Nations’ action regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

For its part, UNRWA had shown an enduring commitment to the refugees, he continued.  Its staff -– most of them Palestinians –- had braved every single conflict where the Agency operated, often risking their lives to save others.  In UNRWA’s staff, one saw the very real embodiment of values that would help bring the Arab-Israeli conflict to an end.  The United Nations was proud of the example they set.  The Organization was equally proud of the example set by UNRWA’s leadership.

“Through today’s meeting, we shall hopefully renew the broad political support that UNRWA requires and deserves,” he said.  At the same time, one should not lose sight of another key objective:  to ensure that UNRWA was adequately resourced, to allow it to operate effectively on a secure financial basis.  Despite generous support from countries of the North and South, and the burden carried by the host Governments of Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, as well as the Palestinian Authority, resources had been scarce.  Adequate funding for UNRWA had a larger purpose recognized by the Member States, as the Agency’s services to the refugees were critical in promoting confidence in peace and greater regional stability.  He was confident that UNRWA would continue to enjoy great support.

The international community had sought for 60 years to find a comprehensive, just and durable solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, he said.  Lacking such a solution, the international community remained morally obliged to sustain its commitment to the Palestinian refugees.  That commitment must also aim at reinvigorating the peace process to reach an early settlement of the Palestinian question in accordance with relevant United Nations resolutions.

MAHMOUD ABBAS, President of the Palestinian Authority said the sixtieth anniversary was an occasion for solemn reflection about the continuing hardship endured by Palestine refugees, the reason for the creation of this important United Nations Agency.  It was also an occasion for renewal of the commitment to end this tragedy with a just, agreed and lasting solution to the plight of the Palestine refugees, in accordance with international law and United Nations resolutions.

Now numbering 4.7 million and making up more than half of the Palestinian people worldwide, the Palestine refugees remained a stateless and oppressed people whom were stiff suffering from the grave injustice inflicted upon them in the 1948 Al-Nakba.  The creation of UNRWA by General Assembly resolution 302 (IV) of 8 December 1949 after Al-Nakba showed the international community’s recognition of the crisis’ severity and the need to act collectively.

He said UNRWA’s humanitarian assistance to Palestine refugees throughout the region had been indispensable for the refugees’ welfare and provided stability, especially during periods of conflict, crisis and upheaval.  He thanked the Commissioners-General that had led UNRWA over the years, its international staff, the continuing efforts of Jordan, Lebanon and Syria to support the Agency’s work and the donor community.  He also thanked the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, and previous Secretaries-General for their support, as well as the support of Member States.

The just resolution of the Palestine refugee problem, on the basis of resolution 194, remained one of the highest priorities for Palestine, and in accordance with the various international initiatives and agreements already signed with the Israeli side, was one of the core issues for a final settlement to the conflict.  Despite more than 60 years of suffering, the Palestinian people believed in the centrality of the United Nations and the principles of its Charter, and awaited the implementation of relevant resolutions.   Israel’s security was linked to the Palestinian people’s independence and their security.  Al-Nakba did not bring security to anyone, he said.  He called for an acceleration of the peace process.

Commissioner-General of UNRWA, KAREN ABUZAYD, said that the Assembly had tasked the Agency to provide “direct relief and works programmes”, pending a just and lasting solution of the refugees’ plight.  By establishing UNRWA, the community of States had created an Agency, which would demonstrate in meaningful terms –- and in the Palestinian context -– the compassion and humanity, which underpinned the purposes and principles of the United Nations.  Today, six decades after UNRWA’s creation, it was essential to use the opportunity to underscore the continuing relevance and validity of UNRWA’s role.  The anniversary was an occasion to recognize that UNRWA had not stood still those 60 years past, but had evolved into the premier humanitarian and human development agency in the Middle East.

The refugees benefited from services in the areas of primary education, vocational training, primary health care, a social safety-net, infrastructure and camp improvement services, microfinance and emergency assistance, she continued.  Together, the Agency’s programmes delivered much more than the sum of their parts, and in ways that had long-term benefits for refugees and the communities in which they lived.  By promoting the capacity for self-reliance of the refugees and widening their choices for sustainable livelihoods, UNRWA contributed to the human development of Palestine refugees and the human capital of the Middle East.  UNRWA’s emergency response interventions had been of increasing importance over the years.  UNRWA helped save lives and provided food and comfort to the refugees.

The cumulative impact of UNRWA’s programmes, protection work, extensive field operations and emergency interventions was to serve as a stabilizing presence in the region of tensions and turbulence.  The Agency embodied the values of the United Nations –- tolerance for diversity, neutrality, non-violent resolution of disputes and respect for the human rights of all.  The Palestine refugees also deserved applause.  The harsh experience of dispossession and exile had not dimmed their drive for self-improvement and self-sufficiency, their love for learning or their thirst for high achievement.  Those qualities, coupled with their legendary fortitude, inspired them to derive full benefit from UNRWA’s human development programmes.

In conclusion, she acknowledged the generous support accorded UNRWA and Palestine refugees by the host countries of Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon, as well as the Palestinian Authority.  The donor countries had also freely and consistently given their financial support.  While contributions past and present were highly appreciated, she strongly appealed to the international community to furnish the levels of financial and political support UNRWA required to serve the refugees better.  Given the consensus on the significance of UNRWA’s mission, it was unacceptable that UNRWA was currently facing a grave funding deficit that threatened its ability to continue delivering services.  She trusted that the interest generated by today’s commemoration would soon be translated into higher levels of donor generosity.  She called on the international community to redouble its efforts to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and with it, the plight of Palestine refugees.  She also asked for renewed commitment to Palestinians’ rights and fundamental freedoms.

Panel Discussion

The event included two panels under the theme, “Contributing to a Better Future:  UNRWA’s Record and the Road Ahead”.  Rami Khouri, Director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy at the American University of Beirut, acted as moderator.

Speakers for the first panel, “UNRWA: An Investment in Middle East Peace”, were Miguel Moratinos, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Spain, whose speech was entitled “Traditional Donor’s Perspective”; Reem Al Hashimy, Minister of State of the United Arab Emirates and Chairperson of Dubai Cares, whose speech was entitled “A Regional Perspective”; and Sawsan Asfari, Director of the Galilee Foundation, whose talk was entitled “A Palestine Refugee Perspective”.

The panel participants spoke of the crucial role that UNRWA had played over the past 60 years in providing the refugees with education, health, water, housing and other services and the need for the international community, both donor countries and international agencies, to continue their funding of the Agency.

The second panel, “Protracted Refugee Crises:  Ensuring Human Security and Basic Rights,” included the speakers António Guterres, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, whose speech was entitled “New Trends in Forced Displacement,”; and John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, who talked on “Ensuring Access.”

Mr. Guterres praised the work of UNRWA and its dedicated staff, but said he hoped the anniversaries of UNRWA would soon end.  With its work, the Agency had done much to improve the image and perception of the United Nations and the uniqueness of the agency’s mandate meant it should not be merged with any other organization.  He noted that the displacement of the Palestinian people was caused by conflict and required a political solution.

Mr. Holmes also lauded the Agency’s achievements and its work to protect millions of lives, as it provided an array of services.  The Agency maintained its adherence to humanitarian principles.  On the issue of access, Mr. Holmes said the Agency needed continued access to the area, especially to Gaza, for humanitarian purposes.  It was unacceptable to link the openings of entry points to politics.

High Level Segment

JONAS GAHR STORE, Foreign Minister for Norway, said UNRWA was very important to the Palestinian people and provided a lifeline and hope for people deprived of basic living conditions.  The Agency was the face of humanity in a region torn by conflict and violence.  It was also important to recognize that any population, deprived of basic resources, was subject to the influence of extremists and the role that UNRWA played in moderating the influence of these extremists and radical groups was important.  Health and education were the core services of UNRWA, as well as crucial cornerstones in the building of any society.  The Agency was helping build a path for the Palestinian people to move towards statehood.  He also praised the dedication of thousands of UNRWA employees.

CAROLYN RODRIGUES-BIRKETT, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Guyana, speaking on behalf of the Group of Latin American and Caribbean States, said that UNRWA’s mission had now lasted 20 times as long as originally envisioned in its three-year mandate.  Yet, its task remained unfinished, not for any failing of its own, but because of a conflict between Israelis and Palestinians that had seen the numbers of refugees reach unforeseen levels.  For the Palestinian people, UNRWA’s assistance was indispensable.

A unique relief agency, UNRWA would be unable to satisfy the demands placed on it without the strong support of the international community, she continued. The Latin American and Caribbean Group had had a long association with UNRWA, and its members had supported it in the execution of its vital mission.  She called on Member States to ensure that UNRWA received the technical and financial support it required to deliver on its important mandate.

The international community’s collective energies must be directed towards finding a solution to the conflict and bringing an end to the plight of Palestinian refugees.  Until such time, the work of UNRWA must continue.  Its very existence represented an important contribution to peace and stability in the region.  Its mission had the full support of the Latin American and Caribbean Group.  The Palestinian people, despite their current plight, were equal members of the human family.  The Group took this opportunity to renew its solidarity with the Palestinian people in their quest for the full enjoyment of their inalienable rights, including the right to an independent State of their own.  The Group also renewed its commitment to supporting all efforts towards a peaceful and definitive solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, for the benefit of Palestinians and Israelis alike and for the people of the entire region.

KATSUYA OKADA, Foreign Minister of Japan, speaking on behalf of the Asian Group, said that with recent positive developments towards the realization of the Middle East peace, the roles of UNRWA were becoming even more significant.  It was the responsibility of the entire international community to guarantee the fundamental human rights of the Palestinian refugees and to ensure that all of them had the chance to develop their abilities.  That was exactly the implementation of “human security”, one of the guiding principles of Japan’s diplomacy.

He went on to say that Japan had continuously provided assistance to Palestine refugees through UNRWA and had built cooperative partnership with the Agency as a major donor country.  By 2009, his country had provided a total exceeding $550 million to the many fields of the Agency’s activities, including health and education.  As a member of the Advisory Commission of UNRWA, Japan had contributed to improving the function and strengthening of the Agency’s management.  Over 900 students had graduated from universities with the scholarship jointly established by UNRWA and Japan.  Among Japan’s other assistance programmes, he mentioned the “Corridor of Peace and Prosperity” Initiative, as well as aid in the humanitarian, medical and nation-building fields, which had amounted to over $1 billion since 1993.

Japan had strived to assist Palestine refugees in various dimensions, but the ultimate goal for the international community was to eliminate the need for such assistance, he added.  In order to achieve that goal, it was necessary to realize a comprehensive peace in the Middle East, including refugee issues, based upon a two-State solution.   Japan would continue to make efforts, focusing on three pillars:  reaching out to Israelis and Palestinians; assistance for Palestinians; and support for confidence-building between the two parties.

Secretary-General BAN KI-MOON
said it was necessary to revive negotiations towards a two-State solution and a comprehensive peace in the Middle East.  The Organization supported United States President Obama’s efforts to resume negotiations and would work with the Quartet.  UNRWA was created in 1949 to provide assistance to refugees pending a political resolution of their plight, and millions of Palestinians lead better lives thanks to the Agency’s care.  The mixed results of the many landmark resolutions of the Security Council and General Assembly made the Agency’s work more important.  UNRWA was a lifeline and a beacon of hope for more than 4.5 million registered refugees.

It was necessary to acknowledge the Agency’s severe funding shortages amid a growing caseload, as the world community paid tribute to its achievements.  Noting the difficult economic times and budgetary problems, he appealed to all partners to help place the Agency’s invaluable work on a firm financial foundation.  The United Nations regular budget had covered only a tiny part of the Agency’s costs since 1974 and the remaining amount came from voluntary contributions.  Perhaps the time had come for the Assembly to review that arrangement.  He called on all Member States to renew their support for the Agency’s work until there was a just and durable solution to the refugee problem, a solution that was an integral part of a comprehensive agreement resulting in two States living side by side.

GRAZYNA BERNATOWICZ
, Deputy Foreign Minister of Poland, speaking on behalf of the Eastern European Group, said that, in the absence of a comprehensive solution to the Palestine refugee problem, the Assembly had repeatedly renewed UNRWA’s mandate.  Since its establishment, UNRWA had become the largest operational Agency, currently providing education, health, relief and social services to Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.  Over the years, it had evolved from a relief and resettlement Organization to one focused on relief and development.  Recognizing the vital role played by UNRWA in providing humanitarian and socio-economic assistance, within the human and financial limits of available resources, she appealed to the international community to spare no effort in responding to the Agency’s needs and challenges.

LUIS AMADO, Minister of State and Foreign Affairs of Portugal, speaking on behalf of the Western European and Other States Group, paid tribute to the staff and management of the Agency, who had shown a significant determination to ensure a better life for the Palestine refugees.  Members of the Group had been supporting the work of UNRWA in many ways and remained fully committed to that endeavour.  Israel, a concerned party, had requested an opportunity to address the meeting today, and the Group regretted that it had been impossible to agree on an appropriate format for its participation.

Over the years, UNRWA had faced many challenges and growing responsibilities in all its fields of operation and had been expanding its work, he said.  In the last few years, the Agency had also carried out an important effort to improve its financial, strategic and development programmes through the organizational development process initiated in 2006.  That process was an important tool for improving its effectiveness and efficiency.  He also expressed concern over the lack of resources faced by the Agency.  UNRWA’s regular financial shortfalls were a cause of deep concern, as they could imperil the provision of basic services and emergency assistance, which were essential for the well-being of the refugees and an important contribution to security in the region.  In that context, he called upon all the countries with means to support UNRWA, especially new and non-traditional donors, to give adequate resources to the Agency and sustain the projects under way, including the reconstruction of the Nahr El-Bared refugee camp.

In spite of UNRWA’s effective work, the refugees’ humanitarian and economic situation remained a source of concern, he said.  He was particularly concerned about the humanitarian situation in Gaza and called for unimpeded access for humanitarian aid, including food, fuel and humanitarian assistance, as foreseen in Security Council resolution 1860.  The commemoration of UNRWA’s sixtieth anniversary should provide an opportunity for the international community both to reaffirm its support for the efforts to improve the living conditions of refugees, and to work tirelessly towards a just and mutually agreed solution to the Palestine refugee issue.  That could only be achieved by the timely and successful conclusion of peace negotiations, based on the two-State solution, with Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace and security.

Algeria, speaking on behalf of the African Group, said the Agency’s existence demonstrated the need for the Palestinian situation to be handled within the boundaries of international law and the United Nations Charter.  The situation had turned into an ongoing, complicated problem and the victims were the people living in overcrowded camps.   Africa recognized the needs of the Palestinian people, expressed its solidarity and noted their strength over the years.  Africa reiterated its support for the creation of a Palestinian State and a national home for its people.  He also recognized the Agency’s many achievements.

It was necessary to examine the refugee situation and address the fear that it could continue if a political solution was not reached, he said.  Over time, UNRWA had assumed responsibility for more than 4.7 million people.  It was a huge task and increasingly difficult for the Agency in the face of under-financing.  UNRWA helped the Palestinian people to maintain their rights, and it was necessary to provide the Agency with sufficient resources.  This anniversary was a time for reflection, as well as action.  A solution must be found for these people living in a very difficult situation.  The international community had lacked the commitment to act, and had to step up its efforts to promote the two-State solution.

GUNILLA CARLSSON
, Minister for International Development Cooperation of Sweden, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said that despite many challenges, UNRWA had served as a stabilizing factor in the region, playing a critical role as the first responder, a stable service provider and a source of protection to the refugee community.  Its contribution to the human capital of the region was beyond doubt.  In 2008-2009, the Agency had experienced yet another year of tremendous challenges.  The humanitarian needs, particularly in Gaza, continued to be of great concern, and the problem of limited access severely constrained UNRWA’s ability to fulfil its mandate.  The European Union called for an immediate and unconditional opening of crossings for the flow of humanitarian aid, commercial goods and persons to and from Gaza.  Reconstruction and economic recovery had to be allowed, and the current humanitarian crisis must be solved.

The financial situation of UNRWA demanded increased international attention, she said.  Its core budget was chronically underfunded, and so were the emergency appeals.  Added to that, were the effects of increased food prices and negative exchange rates.  In 2008, the contribution from the European Union member States and European Commission had amounted to over 60 per cent of UNRWA’s regular budget.  The Union also made large contributions to UNRWA’s special programmes and emergency appeals.

It was the international community’s shared responsibility to support UNRWA, both politically and financially, she added.  The fact that 90 per cent of the resources were provided by 15 countries was not sustainable.  The European Union strongly urged new donors to commit financially to the work of UNRWA, and also urged current donors to increase their contributions.  In order to meet the challenges and to become an even more effective Organization, UNRWA was in the middle of a comprehensive reform process.  The European Union strongly supported the Agency in that endeavour and encouraged it to work in close cooperation with the rest of the United Nations family in its reform efforts.  Pending a comprehensive settlement, the European Union reaffirmed its commitment to keep its humanitarian and economic assistance to the Palestinian people at a substantive level.  A strong and financially stable UNRWA was in the interest of everyone who believed in human development and peace.

TORKI BIN FEISAI, Deputy Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia, current Vice-Chair of the UNRWA Advisory Commission, stressed the importance of today’s commemoration, saying that it gave the international community an opportunity to ensure dignity for the Palestine refugees, consider how to further develop the programmes of UNRWA and enhance the Agency’s mandate to protect the rights of the refugees.  He commended the Agency’s important humanitarian role, as well as its education, health care and social assistance programmes.  The suffering of the Palestinian people highlighted the importance of UNRWA’s functions, particularly in the light of last year’s military incursion by Israel.  During that conflict, many UNRWA staff lost their lives and many UNRWA premises were destroyed, undermining its ability to carry out its mandate.

UNRWA’s continued work depended on many issues, but first of all was the solidarity of donor countries and continued cooperation, he said.  His country supported the Agency, seeking to guarantee its continued service to the refugees.  Between 2002 and 2009, Saudi Arabia had provided $734 million for UNRWA projects, as well as $200 million for projects being studied by the Islamic Development Bank and UNRWA.  The World Bank, in cooperation with Saudi Arabia, had contributed some $5 million for the reconstruction of the camps that had been destroyed in Lebanon, where continued Israeli incursions represented a breach of international law.

Increased settlement activity in the Occupied Palestinian Territory demonstrated that Israel was not seeking peace with the Palestinian people, he continued.  The international community rejected the settlement policy and called for an end to such activities, as well as all unilateral Israel actions to change the demographic composition in the Occupied Territory and introduce facts on the ground.  It was important to raise travel restrictions imposed by Israel and facilitate the delivery of UNRWA aid.  One could not over-emphasize the role of UNRWA in the region, and his country was determined to support the Agency until a solution to the Palestine refugee problem was found.

NASSER JUDEH, Foreign Minister of Jordan, said today’s meeting was proof of the need to reach a two-State solution.  He supported the strong commitment made by President Obama, in his speech to the General Assembly on Wednesday, to call for a two-State solution and a comprehensive peace settlement.  He said President Obama had highlighted the need to cease illegal settlement activity, particularly in the West Bank.

UNRWA had kept the international community aware of the cause of Palestinian refugees, as the Agency met the refugees’ pressing needs.  He appealed to donor countries to continue their support and said the Agency’s activities should not be decreased in any way.  The Agency’s work had the full support of the King of Jordan.  Jordan paid a price for its support of the refugees, as it was the host country for the largest number of refugees and bore a large financial burden.  The Agency’s resources had helped Jordan.  He urged the international community to provide the necessary finances to continue the Agency’s efforts and meet its needs, and ensure that the host countries’ burdens were decreased.

Jordan refused all solutions to the political situation that did not guarantee all the rights of the Palestinian people.  He also noted the historical responsibility of Israel in this situation and the right for host countries to receive reparation for the cost of hosting the refugees.

NAELA GABR, Deputy Foreign Minister of Egypt, the current Chair of the Advisory Commission, outlined important services provided by UNRWA and said that the celebration reminded the international community of the continued suffering of the refugees and the failure of the international community to resolve that problem.  Egypt saw continued support for Palestine refugees as the minimum that the international community could do.  She urged the international community not only to continue, but also to increase support to UNRWA, so that it could maintain its mission until a just solution to the Palestinian question was found.  In that connection, she emphasized the importance of enabling UNRWA to carry out its functions and the need to prevent a reduction in services due to the financial crisis.  She called on the donor countries to increase their contributions and work on expanding the donor basis for UNRWA.

Today’s anniversary shed light on the continued decline in the humanitarian conditions in the occupied territories, especially in the Gaza Strip, as a result of continued blockade by Israel in full defiance of international law and norms, she continued.  Her country had repeatedly called on Israel to uphold its legal obligation to the population of the occupied territories, which was suffering as a result of collective punishment.  The conditions in the West Bank were not much better than in the Gaza Strip.

Until a just solution to the Palestinian question was found, she was pleased by the support expressed for UNRWA.  She looked forward to seeing the Palestinian problem end, in a way that allowed Palestine refugees to achieve their dignity and legitimate rights, including the right to a sovereign State.

FAWKI SALLOUK, Foreign Minister of Lebanon, said the anniversary highlighted the six decades of humanitarian suffering endured by the Palestinian people and their forced displacement.  The anniversary also highlighted the work of an Agency that was the closest witness to the refugees’ sustained suffering.  The Agency had worked with four generations of Palestine refugees and provided for their basic needs, especially health services and education.  He noted that the Agency’s offices had been targeted by Israel.

He urged the international community to continue its support of UNRWA. Lebanon had continued to serve as a host country for the Palestinians.  It had amended its labour laws, for example, to let people carry out their professions and set up dialogues between the Lebanese and Palestinian people.  But, the services it could offer were limited, because of its own limited financial resources.  He thanked the States that had made contributions after the Vienna conference.

Mr. Sallouk stressed that the anniversary showed that the Palestinian people had been deprived of their political rights.  It was necessary to achieve a lasting peace in the Middle East to resolve the situation and let people return to their homeland.  Israel had not cooperated, in this regard, and the Palestinians had a right to return.  He lauded the work of UNRWA and its commissioner.

WALID-AL-MOALLEM, Foreign Minister of Syria, emphasized UNRWA’s contribution to the efforts to end the plight of Palestine refugees and said that today’s anniversary showed the great injustice that the Palestinian people had been suffering since 1948.  The establishment of UNRWA had sought to address the situation, which had led to the movement of the Palestinian citizens.  No solution had been found to the problem of those refugees.  He stressed the need to allow Palestine refugees to return to their own country.  Israel, the occupying Power, was still refusing to implement relevant resolutions in that regard, continuing its policy of occupation and aggression.

As a host country, Syria had dealt with the refugees as its own people, allowing them to keep their citizenship until they went home.  There were some 500,000 Palestine refugees in Syria now.  His country was providing full support for UNRWA.  As a result of financial difficulties, UNRWA was prevented from doing its job.  Also contributing to the difficulties were Israel’s actions, including the invasion of the Gaza Strip.  He appealed for increased support for the Agency, which should be able to continue its work without any cuts. It was important to ensure a fair, lasting and comprehensive solution to the Palestinian question, establishing peace in the region based on the legitimacy of international law. Israel should return all the occupied territories, including the Syrian Golan Heights.

HUGUES MINGARELLI
, Deputy Director-General for External Relations of the European Commission, said the European Commission praised the Agency’s work, as it dealt with a difficult situation on the ground and endured financial constraints. The Agency had given hope to young people and forged a sense of solidarity among the refugee people, as it gave them a sense of dignity.  It had also created the necessary political space for the international community to address the region’s political solution.  The announcement made by President Obama at the Assembly would allow discussions on the political issue to begin again.  The international community should be ready to move ahead, he added.  The Commission also commended the work of the Agency and the Commissioner-General, as she operated under extremely difficult conditions.

ERIC P. SCHWARTZ, Assistant Secretary of State of the United States, said that, with the support of donors and host Governments, UNRWA had assisted millions of Palestine refugees.  Even during periods of instability and conflict, UNRWA staff had ensured that the assistance needs of the most vulnerable refugees were met.  It was only by sustaining the focus on the humanitarian principles of neutrality and impartiality in that highly charged environment that UNRWA leadership and staff could fulfil their essential mandate.  The Agency’s success also depended, in part, on continued close cooperation with host Governments, as well as coordination with the Government of Israel.  In light of Israel’s special role in facilitating UNRWA’s mission, he deeply regretted that Israel’s request to publicly recognize the Agency’s efforts by speaking at today’s forum had not been approved.  President Obama had just hosted a trilateral meeting with Israeli and Palestinian leaders to help launch permanent status negotiations and create an environment for their success.  Creating that environment required ensuring that the dialogue in international organizations was constructive.

As the largest bilateral donor to UNRWA, with over $260 million contributed last year, the United States was committed to helping the Palestinian people, he said.  His country remained steadfast in its commitment to a two-State solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and he looked forward to the day when Israel and Palestine lived side by side in peace and security.  As the international community continued to work towards achieving that goal, he reiterated UNRWA’s important role in the region and expressed appreciation for the dedication of its staff, now numbering nearly 30,000.  He also noted UNRWA’s recent reform initiatives, and encouraged the Agency to continue them.

He added that members of the international community had a responsibility to provide UNRWA with sufficient resources to meet the needs of the refugees. Concerned that the vast majority of contributions to UNRWA’s core services came from traditional donors, he urged non-traditional donors, especially from within the region, to make contributions to the Agency’s general fund.

HAKON ARALD GULBRANDEN, State Secretary for International Development in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Norway, spoke on behalf of Mr. Store, and said that UNRWA had played a central role in the life of refugees and provided human development services to nearly 4.7 million refugees.  These services were essential building blocks to promote human development, sustainable livelihoods and self-reliance.  The Agency had also given the refuges the possibility of a dignified life.  During the Gaza conflict, the Agency’s key role in coordinating humanitarian efforts was recently endorsed in Security Council resolution 1860.  The Palestine refugees made up the largest and most protracted refugee problem.  A durable solution to the refugee problem did not lay in improving the Agency’s funding and services, but by creating a Palestinian State.  Even with a final settlement, high-quality services would be necessary during a transition period.

The Agency faced continued financial constraints, and increasing budget gaps for 2010 and 2011 were predicted if contributions from donors were not increased. These budget gaps would curtail services and create additional challenges to peace and stability in the region.  It was necessary to fully fund the Agency.  Donors had to step up to their commitments, he said.

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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