UNRWA wins 'Spirit of Humanity' award

23 April 2009

23 April 2009


The Arab American Institute Foundation (AAIF) will today present this year’s 2009 Kahlil Jibran Spirit of Humanity Award for International Commitment to UNRWA. The award, which was launched ten years ago, recognizes individuals, corporations, organizations and communities whose work, commitment and support makes a difference in promoting coexistence and inclusion in all walks of life. Through this prize, the AAIF aims to promote the positive effects of diversity and cultural interaction and to showcase programs that foster democratic and humanitarian values across racial, ethnic and religious lines.

Announcing the award, AAIF President James Zogby said, “During the recent conflict in Gaza, UNRWA’s humanitarian mission was tested at all levels and was the principal source of relief and recovery for hundreds of thousands of Palestinians affected by the hostilities. UNRWA staff worked tirelessly, often at grave personal risk, during the attacks. Since the ceasefire they have been working to restore education and primary health care, providing emergency food aid, cash assistance and job creation programs, repairing civilian homes and UNRWA facilities and offering psycho-social support to the most traumatized Gazans, including children in UNRWA schools.”

Welcoming the announcement, UNRWA Commissioner General, Karen Koning AbuZayd, paid tribute to her colleagues. “We have nearly ten thousand staff in Gaza who showed extraordinary bravery and commitment during and after the fighting. It is due to their courage that throughout the conflict we were able to continue with our food distributions to hundreds of thousands of the most needy and health care to the sick and the dying. Now the military campaign is over, we remain committed to our non-emergency, human development work.” AbuZayd said the Kahlil Jibran award recognises the commitment of all UNRWA staff. “Gaza has been in the headlines, but do not forget that we have thousands more staff working in the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. It is on behalf of all of them that I accept this award.”

UNRWA, which is sixty years old this year, provides education, healthcare, relief and social services as well as micro-finance opportunities to Palestine refugees, some 4.6 million of whom are registered with the Agency. As the largest United Nations operation in the Middle East, UNRWA staff, almost all Palestine refugees, work directly to benefit their communities. Through its human development work, the Agency offers self-reliance and dignity, promoting stability and UN values of impartiality and humanity in a volatile region.

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 more than US$ 106  million.

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