Joe Costello, Minister at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Ireland with responsibility for Trade and Development, has concluded an official visit to the Gaza Strip with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA).
In Gaza, Minister Costello was accompanied by Margot Ellis, the Agency's Deputy Commissioner-General, and Robert Turner, Director of UNRWA Operations in Gaza. The officials briefed him on the Agency’s activities in the field. They conducted a tour of UNRWA installations, including a girls' preparatory school, and, later, the distribution centre in the Nuseirat refugee camp, one of the points from which UNRWA provides food assistance. More than 800,000 of the over 1.2 million Palestine refugees in Gaza receive food assistance from the Agency.
As the population continues to suffer from the effects of the blockade imposed on Gaza, recent events in Egypt have caused a further deterioration in the humanitarian situation in which food insecurity, primarily caused by lack of economic access to food – due to high unemployment, low wages and high food prices – was already on a steep rise. The share of food-insecure households surged from 44 per cent in 2011 to 57 per cent in 2012, a trend accompanied by an increase in the proportion of households’ cash income spent on food, to 50 per cent; a deterioration in dietary diversity; and the severe erosion of existing coping mechanisms, such as purchasing food on credit.
Minister Costello said:
This is a time of cautious hope in the Middle East Peace Process, but it is also a time of increasing difficulty for many ordinary Palestinians, especially the people of Gaza. Today, I am meeting Palestine refugees in Gaza to hear their stories and hopes for the future. UNRWA emergency food support provides the lifeline for thousands of refugee families and helps prevent a large-scale crisis in an area where more than one in two families are at risk of hunger. In Ireland, we remain concerned about the situation of Palestine refugees in Gaza. It has been an honour to visit them today, hear their stories and learn about their needs and hopes. We are proud to work with UNRWA to help support these refugees in their time of need.
During his visit, Minister Costello announced a contribution of EUR 0.5 million (US$ 0.67 million) from the Government of Ireland to support UNRWA emergency food assistance in Gaza.
Ms Ellis said: "UNRWA has been grateful for many years for the consistent support we have received from Ireland. This will enable us to continue helping Palestine refugees in Gaza, who face incredible challenges each day in meeting one of their most basic needs - food. As the socioeconomic situation here continues to deteriorate, it is critical for UNRWA to be able to provide this assistance."
Prior to his visit to Gaza, on 7 October, Minister Costello visited UNRWA installations in Lebanon. At the Burj Barajneh refugee camp, Director of UNRWA Affairs in Lebanon Ann Dismorr briefed him on the challenges facing the country as refugees seek safety there from the ongoing conflict in Syria, and Minister Costello announced an Irish contribution of EUR 0.5 million (US$ 0.67 million) to support UNRWA efforts for Palestine refugees from Syria in Lebanon.
An UNRWA partner for many years, and a member of the Agency’s Advisory Commission since 2008, Ireland has provided generous support for UNRWA emergency activities related to Gaza and Syria, as well as for vital human development programming throughout the five fields.