Drowning of Palestinians off the coast of Sicily a ‘clear and tragic sign’ of untenable situation

19 March 2015
Drowning of Palestinians off the coast of Sicily a ‘clear and tragic sign’ of untenable situation
Statement by UNRWA Spokesperson, Chris Gunness

According to latest reports, as many as nine Palestinians drowned off the coast of Sicily on 4 March. They were amongst 59 Palestinians who were part of a larger group trying to  reach Europe from the shores of Libya.  

The fact that this group reportedly consisted of Palestine refugees from Syria, as well as from Gaza and Lebanon, is a clear and tragic sign that Palestine refugees are finding life in Syria and beyond increasingly untenable. 

The conflict has overwhelmed Palestine refugee communities in Syria, with a widespread disrespect for international law and the protection of civilians. In Gaza, the effects of the occupation, blockade and recurring military campaigns have devastated not only Palestine refugee homes, lives and income, but also hope for a secure and dignified future. In Lebanon, where Palestine refugees are already socially and economically marginalized, the strain of Lebanon's refugee load has pushed Palestine refugees into destitution and desperation.    

These tragedies involving men, women and children drowning at sea stem not only from armed conflict, occupation and a lack of protection of human rights, but more fundamentally from the failure to resolve the Palestine refugee problem. At a time of rising extremism in the Middle East region, the failure of the international community to resolve the Palestinian issue takes on an added significance. 

The international community has, through UNRWA, supported the resilience of Palestine refugees throughout the region since 1950.  UNRWA appeals for an urgent increase in this  indispensable assistance, calls for full compliance with obligations under international law and the protection of those fleeing conflict, and stresses the ever-more urgent need for political solutions to the Palestinian-Israeli and Syrian conflicts so that Palestine refugees can again build for a dignified and secure future. 

Background Information: 

UNRWA is confronted with an increased demand for services resulting from a growth in the number of registered Palestine refugees, the extent of their vulnerability and their deepening poverty. UNRWA is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions and financial support has been outpaced by the growth in needs. As a result, the UNRWA programme budget, which supports the delivery of core essential services, operates with a large shortfall. UNRWA encourages all Member States to work collectively to exert all possible efforts to fully fund the Agency’s programme budget. UNRWA emergency programmes and key projects, also operating with large shortfalls, 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 5.4 million Palestine refugees registered with UNRWA across its five fields of operation. Its mission is to help Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip achieve their full human development potential, pending a just and lasting solution to their plight. UNRWA services encompass education, health care, relief and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, protection and microfinance.

For more information, please contact:

Sami Mshasha
Director of Communications, Arabic Language Spokesperson
+972 (0)54 216 8295
+972 (0)258 90724