Acting UNRWA Commissioner-General makes official visit to Syria

09 December 2019
Acting UNRWA Com-Gen's visit to Yarmouk camp, 4 December 2019, Taghrid Mohammad

Acting Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), Christian Saunders,  visited Syria between 3 and 6 December, during which time he met with Palestine refuges and UNRWA staff and held meetings with a number of Syrian government officials, including, Dr. Faisal Miqdad, the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates, Mrs. Rima al-Qadiri, the Minister of Social Affairs and Labour, and Mr. Ali Mustafa, the Director-General of the General Authority for Palestine Arab Refugees (GAPAR). In these meetings. Mr. Saunders expressed his gratitude to the Syrian Government for the continued support given to the operations of UNRWA in Syria.

In conversation with two Palestine refugee women receiving UNRWA cash assistance, Mr. Saunders heard first-hand accounts of the pain, despair and profound sense of loss they endure.  He also received appeals to continue providing humanitarian assistance to help them survive amidst the hard conditions Palestine refugees are going through in Syria.

In Sbeineh camp in Rif Damascus - previously an embattled area to the south of Damascus to which Palestine refugees have returned - he toured UNRWA installations and met with representatives of the UNRWA school parliament “Dream big, keep your dreams, and work hard to realize your dreams,” Mr. Saunders said while addressing the students.

He also travelled to Yarmouk, once a bustling area home to some 160,000 Palestine refugees and the enduring symbol of the Palestine refugee diaspora.  The camp has been the scene of fierce clashes and now lies in ruins.   Seventy-five per cent of the Agency’s 23 premises, including 16 schools, need to be completely rebuilt and all three of the Agency’s health centres in Yarmouk are completely destroyed.  Mr. Saunders said: “The scale of the destruction in Yarmouk is unimaginable and the situation is desperate and appalling.”

His field trip to the Yalda neighbourhood of Damascus allowed Mr. Saunders to meet with Palestine refugees from Yarmouk receiving UNRWA services.  Many of the refugee men and women present at a distribution of food and hygiene materials were displaced from Yarmouk camp and described the human impact of the Syria conflict.  Mr. Saunders observed that, “The distribution in Yalda testifies to UNRWA’s commitment to provide essential assistance to the conflict-affected Palestine refugees. It is important that we are able to continue providing the life-saving support to Palestine refugees from Yarmouk in surrounding neighborhoods.”

Acting UNRWA Com-Gen's visit to UNRWA community centre & meeting with the school parliament in Sbeinh camp, 4 December 2019, Taghrid Mohammad
Acting UNRWA Com-Gen's visit to UNRWA community centre & meeting with the school parliament in Sbeinh camp, 4 December 2019, Taghrid Mohammad

The Acting Commissioner-General also attended a ceremony to commemorate the International Day of People with Disabilities, which included songs and dances.  The event also featured three inspiring stories about persons with disabilities who rose above their disabilities and became active members in their communities. It was also an occasion for the persons with disabilities to reaffirm their right to inclusion and full participation in the community through UNRWA programmes.  He awarded certificates to volunteers who have been working at the UNRWA-sponsored community-based organizations for ten years in the refugee camps across Syria in recognition of their service.

At a town hall meeting of UNRWA staff in Syria, the Acting UNRWA Commissioner-General said:  “UNRWA was an extremely effective and professional organization that used donor funds wisely when I joined it 30 years ago. Today, it remains an extremely effective and professional organization that uses donor funds judiciously.  UNRWA maintains high productivity and strong results on a tight budget. I will do whatever I could to assist you in performing your duties to Palestine refugees. We will see an UNRWA that is fit for purpose, an Agency with a ten year plan, an Agency that is dedicated to education, health, and other humanitarian services and one that focuses on addressing the youth and leveraging technology as keys to a future for all.  You have my utmost admiration for keeping UNRWA’s programmes running despite the prolonged crisis and challenging environment in which UNRWA works in Syria.  You should be proud because you are working with an effective and professional organization like UNRWA.  I am proud to work with such inspiring and dedicated staff.”

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.

For more information, please contact:

Sami Mshasha
Director of Communications, Arabic Language Spokesperson
+972 (0)54 216 8295
+972 (0)258 90724
Tamara Alrifai
UNRWA Spokesperson
+962 (0)79 090 0140