World leaders pay tribute to UNRWA on its sixtieth anniversary

18 September 2009

18 September 2009

UNRWA, New York, 18 September 2009

Photo credit: UN Photo/Jenny Rockett

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA, has announced a week-long series of events beginning in New York next week to mark the 60th anniversary of its creation. These include the unveiling of a commemorative banner that will adorn the façade of the iconic UN General Assembly building by the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, and the Deputy Secretary General, Asha-Rose Migiro.

The centrepiece of the week is a Ministerial Level Event on September 24 at which governments will pledge support for UNRWA and pay tribute to six decades of achievement and service to the world’s largest and longest standing refugee population and to the Palestine refugees themselves.

In addition, there will be academic conferences at Columbia University and the Princeton Club on UNRWA’s humanitarian role in current peace efforts and an assessment of the Agency’s contribution to human capital in the Middle East.

The Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, commended UNRWA as a “symbol of the international community’s determination to end the state of limbo the Palestine refugees endure”, and praised the Agency’s staff for its “dedication and courage”. He is expected to warn of “painful” cuts in UNRWA services and call on the General Assembly to “look again” at its responsibilities and put the Agency on a firm financial foundation.

Looking forward to the High Level Event, UNRWA Commissioner-General, Karen AbuZayd said, “This is an occasion for reflection on why after sixty years of exile and dispossession, millions of Palestine refugees remains stateless. With increasing talk about an emerging peace deal, let us all recommit ourselves to finding a peaceful solution in which the tragic situation of the refugees will be resolved”. “This week is also an opportunity for UNRWA to tell the world about its achievements. The war in Gaza and our continued presence side by side with the people there may have raised some headlines. During this coming week we want to remind the world of the less-publicised work we do day in and day out for a refugee population larger than the populations of over a third of the UN’s member states,” said AbuZayd. “That is UNRWA’s lasting contribution to peace”.

UNRWA has published a commemorative book in which nearly one hundred statesmen and women pay tribute to its work. President Mahmoud Abbas praises the Agency for its role as a “stabilizing force” and commends UNRWA for “ameliorating the plight of the Palestine refugees by giving them “protection, hope and a sense of human dignity”. The US Secretary of State, Hilary Rodham Clinton, gives her support to the Agency, which has been confronting “difficult and challenging circumstances”, working “tirelessly … to ensure the dignity and human development of those they serve”. Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan says, “We owe so much to UNRWA. Their selflessness and perseverance in the face of indescribable adversity have kept Palestine refugees alive for sixty years: healing their wounds, sustaining their bodies, nourishing their minds and giving them hope in their darkest hours”.

UNRWA provides education to half a million children in approximately 650 schools across the Middle East and maintains 138 health centres in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. In addition, it runs extensive relief, social services and microfinance programmes in the region.


For media enquiries or interviews with UNRWA’s Commissioner-General, please contact:

Chris Gunness, UNRWA Spokesperson: (+972) 542 402 659
Michael Balz, UNRWA Public Information Officer: (+1) 646 522 5693
Shymaa El-Ansary, UN Department of Public Information (+1) 917 367 2753, e-mail:

Journalists without UN accreditation who wish to attend the event should follow the instructions for obtaining accreditation at:

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$ 100 million.

For more information, please contact: