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Speech of United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini to the 156th Session of the League of Arab States Council
Mr. Chairman, Excellencies,
Thank you for the regular invitation to UNRWA to address this forum, an indication of the importance you attach to the issue of Palestine refugees.
As I stand before this Council today, four of the five fields where UNRWA operates are in severe crisis, and the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to sweep through the Palestine refugee communities.
In this context, UNRWA provides critical and lifesaving services to some of the most marginalized and underprivileged populations in the region.
And this month, more than half a million girls and boys have gone back to UNRWA schools. These children are often the only light and hope whilst the conflict remains unresolved.
It really pains me, as UNRWA Commissioner-General, to have to present great achievements by the Agency and at the same time to plead for the resources to continue achieving.
One would think that, in the absence of a political solution that can put an end to the plight of Palestinian refugees, there would be no need to constantly run after funding.
One would think that maintaining and supporting such a steady source of stability in the region would always be the strategic and humane thing to do.
In reality, UNRWA struggles every year to keep its programmes running and delivering much needed assistance.
This year, we welcomed the return of the US among our largest donors.
And whilst the European and other traditional donors have remained steadfast in their support, they struggle to sustain high levels of funding as the pandemic hits their economies.
Here, I would like also to say a word about the ferocious politically motivated campaigns the Agency faces. UNRWA’s opponents seem to believe that harming its reputation and trying to close it down will erase 5.7 million Palestine refugees.
To those who question the status of Palestine refugees I say: find a political solution that includes a just and lasting solution to their plight.
To those who question the Agency’s mandate I say: the UNRWA mandate is almost unanimously adopted at the UN General Assembly and it will take only the General Assembly to question the mandate that it gives.
UNRWA is irreplaceable. There is no alternative to UNRWA in the region as long as there is no political solution that includes a just and lasting solution of the plight of Palestine refugees.
Thousands of Palestine refugees have played important roles in the development of younger nations in the region.
Most of them were educated in UNRWA schools, where we continue to provide quality education based on human rights and humanitarian values.
In a region rife with conflicts and crises, UNRWA is key to stability, it is key to safeguarding international human rights, and key to the wellbeing of millions of Palestine refugees.
The mandate of UNRWA is a common responsibility and the stability of the region our common interest.
I appeal to members of this Council to match the generosity of the countries that host Palestine refugees by funding the Agency that provides them with health, education, social services and much more.
I invite you to actively be part of the strategic discussions around the modernization of UNRWA and to attend the international conference which will be hosted by Jordan and Sweden to ensure we are partners in enabling Palestine refugees on their journey to self-reliance.
Together, we can continue to give every Palestine refugee child the means to pursue the future he or she wants.
Loay al Basiony is part of a team that worked at NASA to send a helicopter to Mars. He went to an UNRWA school in Gaza.
Since the 1990s, our Microfinance programme has contributed towards sustaining or creating close to 700,000 jobs in the region.
Most of UNRWA’s 28,000 staff members are Palestine refugees themselves.
These are all achievements to celebrate.
When 15-year-old Maria in Ein el Helweh camp started to give a presentation, she had proudly prepared for my visit, she broke down in tears unexpectedly. Maria has 4 siblings. In their household there is one smart phone with limited access to the internet. Maria talked about her dream to study in Oxford and her fear that she would not be able to do so without access to digital learning.
For Maria, and for thousands of young minds like hers, we must keep the hope alive.
Thank you for generously giving me this platform today to continue to call for solidarity with Palestine refugees.
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