"Why? UNRWA and Palestine Refugees after 60 Years"

29 October 2009

29 October 2009


The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) hosted a panel discussion entitled "Why? UNRWA and Palestine refugees after 60 Years"  yesterday at the Danish Institute in Damascus. The event commemorated sixty years of UNRWA’s provision of services and aid to Palestine refugees.

The discussion was moderated by Roger Hearn, Director of UNRWA Affairs, Syria. The panel included Lex Takkenberg, UNRWA‘s Senior Ethics Officer who holds a PhD in International Law; Raja Deeb, a Palestinian activist and advocate for the right of return; and Nadine Salameh, an award-winning Palestinian actress.

Mr. Hearn underlined that UNRWA’s 60th anniversary is no reason for celebration but rather for reflection on its future role of ensuring that the Palestine refugee voice is heard and their needs and interests are reflected in any future international developments.

Mr. Takkenberg reflected on the early days of UNRWA and explained how the special legal regime for Palestine refugees came into being and how it has evolved. He also highlighted UNRWA‘s increased focus on protection in the wake of serious violations of refugee rights. He concluded his presentation with thoughts on the role UNRWA may play in the case of a major breakthrough in the peace process. Raja Deeb and Nadine Salameh approached the topic from activist and personal perspectives.

Established on 8 December 1949, UNRWA has been a lifeline of support for millions of Palestinians in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, West Bank and the Gaza Strip and a stabilizing force across the region.

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Background Information

UNRWA is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions, and financial support has not kept pace with an increased demand for services caused by growing numbers of registered refugees, deepening poverty and conflict. As a result, the UNRWA General Fund, which supports core essential services and most staffing costs, operates with a large deficit. UNRWA emergency programmes and key projects, also operating with large deficits, are funded through separate funding portals. 

UNRWA is a United Nations agency established by the General Assembly in 1949 and mandated to provide assistance and protection to some 5 million registered Palestine refugees. Its mission is to help Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank and the Gaza Strip achieve their full human development potential, pending a just solution to their plight. UNRWA services encompass education, health care, relief and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, and microfinance.

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