End of year message from the Commissioner-General to UNRWA staff

31 December 2019
End of year message from the Commissioner-General to UNRWA staff

Dear Colleagues

As we come to the end of this tumultuous year, I would like to take a moment to reflect on what we overcame and achieved together as an Agency. I would also like to pay tribute to you, our dedicated team of 30,000 women and men for having worked tirelessly across all our areas of operation for the protection, wellbeing and human dignity of Palestine refugees.

In 2019, we faced the most serious financial shortfall in the history of the agency. This already difficult situation was compounded by a crisis of confidence in the agency’s senior leadership following serious allegations of mismanagement. This resulted in an OIOS investigation which culminated in a complete change to the senior leadership. Both issues were the cause of considerable concern and uncertainty for all of us, especially the beneficiaries of our programmes.  

In order to repair the agency’s reputation and help regain the confidence of our donors and other partners, the agency has initiated a number of organizational reforms to improve transparency, efficiency and effectiveness. These efforts have been rewarded with renewed commitments by governments with both the release of previously pledged funding and with additional pledges by Germany, the European Union, Qatar and Ireland.  

As we move towards the beginning of a new year, our financial deficit remains a very serious concern. In spite of the funding we have received over the last few weeks, it has, unfortunately,  not been sufficient to close the shortfall and the agency is carrying over a significant deficit into 2020. We will need to double our fundraising efforts, particularly as 2020 is being predicted as being a very difficult financial year, not just for UNRWA but for humanitarian and development funding globally.

The contextual environment we operate within remains challenging as we continue to face intense political and socio economic pressure that negatively impacts our work on the ground and the support to Palestine refugees.

We are witnessing sustained efforts to replace UNRWA in East Jerusalem and high levels of violence  and destruction in the West Bank. Gaza has suffered more than twelve years of blockade which has led to terrible living conditions which if not addressed will shortly become completely unsustainable. Our health teams speak of psychosocial and trauma reaching epidemic proportions. In Lebanon, a political crisis which started on 17 October and a rapidly deteriorating economy are challenging our ability to meet increasing demands for assistance. In Syria as the conflict enters its ninth year, displacement, loss of livelihoods and destruction of personal property and infrastructure, all contribute to unbearable suffering.  In Jordan, Palestine refugees, including Palestine Refugees from Syria, face social and economic hardships with dwindling employment opportunities, particularly for women and young people. The agency’s severe financial shortfall threatens our ability to sustain our operations and our ability to deliver humanitarian assistance, even to the most vulnerable of the vulnerable.

Despite the challenging political environment and difficult socio-economic conditions, I continue to be amazed by the dignity, determination and resourcefulness of the Palestine refugee women, men and children. Everywhere I go in our five areas of operations, I am reminded of the enormous resilience it takes to be a Palestine refugee,  as I am reminded of the essential role played by UNRWA and the services we provide in contributing to that resilience.

The overwhelming support of 170 states that voted for the renewal of UNRWA’s mandate for another three years at the United Nations General Assembly earlier this month is also an acknowledgement of the continued need for UNRWA’s services and for the rights of Palestine refugees to be preserved until there is a just and durable solution to their plight.

In addition to the considerable efforts that we have made to raise the funds necessary to continue our operations, we continue to advocate for the rights of Palestine refugees as enshrined under international law and to defend the Agency and its important work against increasing ill-intended attempts to undermine the critical work that we do and the principles enshrined in international law and associated UN resolutions.

As noted above, we have embarked on a series of organizational reforms to help strengthen the agency and  improve our operations and programs. It is my firm intention for UNRWA management to work closely with the staff and ASUs on these reforms and on other matters of concern to staff going forward.  I am committed to treating staff fairly and to addressing issues of concern to staff, when it is within my ability to do so. UNRWA continues to count on the understanding and support of the staff and of the staff unions to help the Agency traverse this very difficult financial period so that we are able to continue to provide the best possible services and outcomes for our clients, the Palestine refugees. Although the situation is currently extremely difficult financially, what continues to give me hope is you, UNRWA’s resilient and resourceful staff.

I believe very much in transparency, direct communication and inclusivity and thus will continue to share information with you as often as possible so that no one has to rely on inaccurate rumors as their source of information. Success is achieved when we all work together with a common goal and that success is infectious.

We will be looking to donor partners and host governments for help and support with the immense pressure that the agency is facing but I also welcome you to put forward new ideas and approaches to help us to better deliver the agency’s essential services along with being better able to meet the changing needs of the refugees, particularly the needs of the Palestinian youth.

This has been a very difficult year and I wish to close this year by reiterating how proud I am to have been asked to lead UNRWA during a difficult transition, and to thank every single one of you for your dedication, commitment and hard work. I will strive to ensure that our successful operations in support of hope and dignity for Palestine refugees will continue to earn us the support and trust of all our partners, including the member states of the UN General Assembly who have given UNRWA its mandate.

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.