Statement in response to Haaretz article "How to prevent disaster"

23 May 2011

23 May 2011


Your recent article by Yisrael Harel (19 May 2011) on the funding of UNRWA is both heartening and disheartening.

It is disheartening because it suggests that the de-funding of UNRWA would somehow “solve” the refugee “problem”. This ignores not only the realities on the ground, but also international law, UN resolutions and all internationally accepted paradigms for solving the Arab-Israeli conflict, which hold that the “refugee issue” is to be resolved in the context of a just, durable and comprehensive peace, based on two states enjoying secure and recognised borders. Only when that has been achieved - a responsibility of the political actors - will there be discussions about handing over UNRWA services. In the meantime, the Agency will continue to bring human development to refugees, nurturing in the next generation the belief in a dignified, secure and peaceful future. We will continue through our education programmes to share UN values with 500,000 children in UNRWA schools across the Middle East.

The article is heartening because UNRWA has long called for the refugee issue to be discussed and resolved by the parties to the conflict. The “Arab Spring” and the “Nakba Day” protests have taken that debate onto the streets, making even more urgent an informed discussion among the peace-makers. As we have long argued, the voice of the refugees must be heard and their grievances addressed if there is to be peace. The lesson of the Arab Spring is that if we wish for peace stability and security, then we must heed the peaceful calls for justice and inclusion. Your article shows that the need to resolve the refugee issue is as urgent as ever. Ignoring the refugees is no longer an option.

Yours faithfully,

Chris Gunness
UNRWA Spokesman

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 million registered Palestine refugees. Its mission is to help Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank 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.

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Two UNRWA students from Gaza enjoy recess in their first day of school. © 2017 UNRWA Photo by Rushdi Al-Saraj
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