Statement by Chris Gunness about article in Bild published on 3 February 2017

04 February 2017

UNRWA is dismayed by the article published on 3 February 2017 in Bild, and the apparent attempt to undermine – on false premises – efforts to preserve the dignity of 5.3 million people in deep distress in a highly unstable region. As it is, UNRWA is the one international organizations delivering services directly and with accountability to Palestine refugees on the ground, with the facilitation of member states, including Israel. At no stage did the paper make any attempt to contact us, in order to reflect our views in the article.

In a deliberate and increasingly systematic way, UNRWA is tackling neutrality head on. The outrageous alleged statements apparently posted online by a tiny fraction of present or former staff do not in any way represent the commitments to neutrality and principles of humanity and independence of 30,000 staff serving with conscience and professionalism in the conflict zones of the Middle-East.

Amid highly complex operational contexts, UNRWA is working to promote the highest possible standards of neutrality. We have in place a broad range of checks and balances – including the vetting of staff – to support this objective. There is more information about the range of activities we undertake to promote neutrality in relation to staff, installations, suppliers and beneficiaries at this link: /userfiles/2011033075942.pdf

During 2016 the Agency delivered specific neutrality and social media training to senior managers and is soon to launch specific neutrality and social media training for senior managers across all five UNRWA fields of operations and headquarters. In addition, in the coming months we will begin rolling out compulsory on-line social media training to all 30,000 staff, most of them Palestine refugees themselves. The launch of comprehensive face to face social media training in Arabic is imminent with a first phase targeting over 3,000 staff members selected from all areas of operation. 

UNRWA takes allegations of neutrality violations with the utmost seriousness. We always look into such allegations and will take disciplinary action where appropriate in accordance with our regulatory framework. We do not make public the details of such cases, as this would undermine efforts to take effective action and would violate standard employee privacy policies and due process.  UNRWA reiterates its condemnation of all forms of racism.

The Bild article contains incorrect and misleading information which we reject. Refugees under the mandate of UNHCR, the UN’s global refugee agency, pass on refugee status to children of refugees in protracted refugee situations pending a durable solution. During the 2014 Gaza hostilities UNRWA staff found weaponry, not rockets, in abandoned schools and we immediately went public and condemned these violations of our premises. 

Through its emergency work, its education, health, relief and social service programmes, UNRWA promotes the highest possible standards of human development instilling a sense of calm, hope and dignity in some of the most marginalized communities in the Middle East.

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.