Statement of the UNRWA Commissioner-General, 154th Session of the League of Arab States Council at the Ministerial Level

09 September 2020
Statement of the UNRWA Commissioner-General, 154th Session of the League of Arab States Council at the Ministerial Level

Your Excellency Mr Chairman,

Your Excellency Mr Aboul-Gheit,

Excellencies, members of the Council,

It is a privilege to address the Arab League today about the situation of Palestine refugees and the challenges that UNRWA faces.

The support of the Arab League and its members is crucial to the Agency in the face of growing political and economic challenges. Palestine refugees should continue to be protected and supported as long as their status remains unchanged.

Crises in the region remain unresolved and new ones always seem to be unfolding.

In Lebanon, the devastating explosion in Beirut port has shattered the human security of thousands, including around 200,000 Palestine refugees. Lebanon faces immense financial, economic and political challenges.

In Syria, nine years of conflict and a freefalling economy pose enormous humanitarian challenges and many Palestine refugee families are said to be cutting on food.

In the West Bank, demolitions, incursions, detentions and violence remain a daily occurrence; and Gaza is constantly on the edge of implosion.

Excellencies,

Whilst the challenges hitting Palestine refugees and UNRWA are multiple, my immediate priority on my appointment as Commissioner-General was to protect the Palestine refugee community from COVID-19.

For several months, UNRWA managed to prevent an outbreak of COVID-19 in the densely populated Palestine refugee camps. We maintained all our services, but shifted to distance learning, telemedicine and home delivery for essential drugs and food.

Since July, however, we are racing against the clock, as the number of COVID-19 cases amongst Palestine refugees jumped from less than 200 to over 4,300 last Thursday.

And now, COVID-19 is fueling a pandemic of abject poverty.

Despair and hopelessness are growing among Palestine refugees and they turn to UNRWA for more assistance.  

Despair is a dangerous feeling in a highly volatile region.

In such an unpredictable and unstable environment, we need, more than ever, a predictable and stable UNRWA.

Our greatest challenge is our financial stability. We are operating at full capacity with inadequate resources. 

Year after year, month after month, UNRWA is on the edge of a financial collapse. This is not a sustainable model.

Despite the severity of the financial situation, I do not wish to add to the anxiety and insecurity that refugees feel every day by making alarmist public statements.

Excellencies,

As of today, I do not know whether we will have adequate resources to run UNRWA operations until the end of the year. Nevertheless, I have taken the decision to make Palestine refugee children going back to learning a priority. I am delighted to announce that last week more than half a million girls and boys started to go back to learning in UNRWA schools. Education is central to all of our efforts to give them hope for a better future.

But sustaining education requires a different funding model.

Our budgets are prepared ahead of time, they are predictable.

Over the last 5 years - with the exception of 2018 - UNRWA’s Programme Budget - the backbone of the Agency - has not been adequately resourced to deliver with the quality that meets the commitments of UNRWA’s mandate.

Funding has constantly been unpredictable, with no visibility beyond few weeks.

UNRWA is deeply appreciative of Members of the Arab League who support the Agency with financial contributions.

I have already appealed to UN Member States to match their political support for the UNRWA mandate with adequate resources.

I now appeal to Members of the Arab League to do the same.

In the immediate term, between now and the end of the year, UNRWA urgently needs 200 million US dollars for its Programme Budget, US$ 95 million to respond to COVID-19, and US$ 43 million for Syria and the occupied Palestinian territory, primarily to sustain food and cash assistance to one million poor refugees in Gaza and over 400,000 in Syria and Lebanon.

Failing to receive the necessary funds will affect vital services to millions of Palestine refugees.

If we cannot deliver on our mandate due to inadequate resources, I will have no other choice than to turn to the United Nations General Assembly for guidance about what part of the mandate it wishes to prioritize.

Together we can avoid this. With your continuous generous support, we shall collectively help keep a sense of normality, predictability and stability among Palestine refugees and within the region.

Let me close by welcoming the United Arab Emirates as the new Chair of the Advisory Commission on UNRWA.

Thank you.

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