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UNRWA Commissioner-General League of Arab States Address March 2023
Mr. Secretary-General of the League of Arab States,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am grateful for the renewed opportunity to raise the plight of Palestine refugees.
The Meeting of Foreign Ministers is taking place against the tragic background of the devastating earthquake in Türkiye and Syria.
Palestine refugees who live in the Northern part of Syria suffered loss of life, displacement, and sheer terror at the destitution that still awaits them.
It is in situations of such apocalyptic magnitude that one sees the genuine commitment of governments and people towards humanity.
Those who shine are the ones who stand by the side of affected people.
The Arab region was shining with solidarity.
The UNRWA teams were in Aleppo and Latakia on the day after the earthquake.
They distributed food, medical services and psychological support to hundreds of Palestine refugees whose homes were totally or severely destroyed.
Several of our schools in the area became temporary homes.
This meeting is also taking place amidst extremely serious deterioration of the security situation in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
We are witnessing a shocking level of violence and an equally shocking rhetoric.
Last Thursday, I visited Aqbat Jabr refugee camp in Jericho. The day before, armed violence erupted nearby two UNRWA schools.
Teachers shared with me stories of terrified children as they tried to keep them inside the school to protect them.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The Agency for Palestine refugees is nearing 75 years of existence.
Never have Palestine refugees felt as vulnerable as they do today, in the face of diminished global attention, changed regional dynamics and the rise of explicit calls to undermine their rights and refugee status.
This calls for reflection on the future of millions of Palestine refugees, many of whom continue to live in extremely challenging conditions and precarious legal status.
As we near this very sober mark, UNRWA has a lot to be proud of.
Brilliant students in UNRWA schools, excellent health indicators, universal vaccination rates, and much more.
But at the heart of the work of UNRWA is an unresolved conflict, one of the longest in recent history.
Palestine refugees all await a just and lasting solution.
There has never been a greater need for Arab solidarity with them as the region undergoes yet another worrying episode of violence and socio-economic demise.
The reflection on the future of Palestine refugees must be part and parcel of any discussion or initiative about the road to peace. Whether these are new discussions, or revived discussions.
Our services have offered a lifeline to one of the most marginalized communities in the region.
Our education, health and social services all have allowed many Palestine refugees to lead healthy productive lives.
Our vocational centers have graduated young women and men who find jobs despite high unemployment.
But UNRWA is underfunded every year, and lives on austerity and debt.
Our fragile finances do not allow the kind of modernization and upgrading that we aspire to; that is needed to remain relevant and effective.
Take education for example: just before the earthquake hit Syria, I met young women and men who study in our vocational center in Aleppo.
They asked for courses to learn entrepreneurship.
They asked for internships in technology and communication companies.
They asked for intensive language training to allow them to connect with the world online.
Our vocational centers are no longer able to offer cutting-edge courses, like coding or app development.
Old skills which we have long offered are becoming less competitive in a world where technology skills drive employment.
In Gaza though, we did manage to offer coding and Information Technology courses in our vocational center.
The result is a generation of Palestine refugees who sit in an UNRWA IT Center in Gaza, under the blockade, and offer online services to UN offices across the world.
Another example is green and renewable energy. Our young students are increasingly aware of the need for environmentally friendly solutions in very, very crowded refugee camps.
Ghada is a student in the UNRWA vocational center in Gaza. She is studying to be able to put in place alternative solar and energy systems in factories and businesses.
The quality education refugees receive in UNRWA schools and vocational centers is often their passport to work and their own self-reliance.
The contribution of UNRWA to the wellbeing of Palestine refugees and stability in the region cannot be overstated.
As we look to the future, UNRWA must have the resources to modernize its operations and its education in schools and in vocational and training centers.
Young Palestine refugees wherever they are in Aleppo, in Gaza or in Beirut deserve the opportunity to thrive.
Palestine refugee women in the West Bank or Jordan want to receive micro funds to help them start their businesses and become financially independent.
Advanced technology courses can enable youth to work globally as technology specialists, programmers, analysts, quality control professionals, and project managers, while in their homes and still unable to travel freely.
This opens more prospects for them and will contribute positively to their lives and to the region.
UNRWA is seeking a renewed commitment of member-states of the Arab League to the human development of the Palestine refugee communities.
This is a cornerstone of regional stability, and a reiteration of the generosity and solidarity that the Arab region is known for.
Together we need to bring in knowledge, resources and creative energy to the Palestine refugee communities in the region.
And together, we must continue to keep hope alive.
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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