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Statement of Mr. Philippe Lazzarini The Commissioner-General The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) 160th Session of the League of Arab States Council
Mr. Secretary-General of the League of Arab States,
I am grateful for the renewed opportunity to bring the situation of Palestine Refugees to your attention.
This Council is a crucial forum that I particularly prioritize, given our common interest in seeing their rights upheld.
Since last I addressed the Council in March, the situation for millions of Palestine Refugees in the region has further deteriorated.
The Israeli military operation in Jenin camp and the armed clashes in Ein el Helweh camp are just two of several worrying developments.
Gaza saw renewed escalations amid an ongoing crippling blockade that deprives Gazans of economic growth or any kind of normality.
Palestine Refugees in Syria are recovering from the devastating earthquake, without adequate support.
180,000 Palestine Refugees in Jordan, who fled from Syria or from Gaza in 1967 live in poverty and growing debt.
For nearly 75 years, UNRWA has provided public-like services to Palestine Refugees across the region.
While running schools, health centres and social protection, the Agency has also responded to urgent humanitarian crises by providing food, cash assistance and rehabilitating damaged shelters.
I am proud of the positive impact UNRWA has had on the communities across the region.
Unfortunately, though, the Agency might not be able to continue to play its role in the same way for much longer.
You heard more than once about our financial situation.
It sometimes sounds like a broken record.
The reality is that the crisis deepens year after year, while the needs of the refugees increase.
The gap between resources and the demand for services is now too wide to be contained by internal financial maneuvers.
The status quo we are locked in today has become our main existential threat.
If nothing changes, the Agency will reach an inflection point.
More than ever, universal human rights such as the right to education or healthcare are at risk.
I am convinced that no one in this room would like to see UNRWA having to deprive hundreds of thousands of children to access education or millions of others to access primary health care.
This is something we should not allow.
Palestinian Refugees have been failed too many times.
Their dignity is all that still remains.
Their right to a dignified life cannot be negotiable.
There is an alternative path, one that places Palestine Refugees at the center of a renewed discussion about their rights and how to protect them.
The discussion today needs to be elevated from a financial to a political one, a discussion addressing Palestine Refugees’ dignity and wellbeing and through it, the stability of the region and the quest for peace.
The League of Arab States and its members, especially those who host the refugees are key partners.
You are also our allies in our efforts to raise funds and ensure that global solidarity with Palestine Refugees remains strong.
I say this as Palestine Refugees have waited 75 years for a political solution.
They have always relied on the Arab world for solidarity.
They have no closer ally, no better partner.
We are aware of renewed efforts to revive a dialogue in the region that can lead to long term peace.
I welcome such initiatives and reiterate that a political solution to the longest conflict in the region is the only possible outcome.
And such an outcome must include a just and lasting solution to the plight of Palestine Refugees.
And I look forward to engaging more closely with the region on this issue.
Immediate financial support is an essential and urgent priority in the short term.
As of now, UNRWA needs between US$ 170-190 million to sustain core services until the end of this year.
In addition, we need another 75 million dollars to continue our life-saving food pipeline to more than half of the population in Gaza.
But as we approach 75 years of UNRWA’s existence, the Palestine Refugees look toward the Arab countries for more than immediate funding to the Agency.
They want education and employment opportunities.
They want to be relevant to the regional and global job markets, even if they are sitting in Gaza.
They want to think beyond their daily struggle and into a more prosperous and stable future.
UNRWA and Palestine Refugees need Arab States to be at the forefront of a transformation from the current status quo that has run its course to a new direction, a direction where Palestine Refugee have a tangible reason to hope for a long-term solution.
I urge you to put the issue of Palestine Refugees back to the top of your political agendas.
This is the only way we can have a sustainable, peaceful, and prosperous Middle East for all.
UNRWA is the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. The United Nations General Assembly established UNRWA in 1949 with a mandate to provide humanitarian assistance and protection to registered Palestine refugees in the Agency’s area of operations pending a just and lasting solution to their plight.
UNRWA operates in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, The Gaza Strip, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.
Tens of thousands of Palestine refugees who lost their homes and livelihoods due to the 1948 conflict continue to be displaced and in need of support, nearly 75 years on.
UNRWA helps Palestine Refugees achieve their full potential in human development through quality services it provides in education, health care, relief and social services, protection, camp infrastructure and improvement, microfinance, and emergency assistance. UNRWA is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions.
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