UNRWA Archive Honoured by UNESCO

31 July 2009

31 July 2009

Girl and baby fleeing in 1967

UNRWA’s archive of about half a million still and moving images has been named by UNESCO as a “Memory of the World” archive of outstanding value. The announcement was made by UNESCO Director-General, Koïchiro Matsuura, during a 3-day meeting of the International Advisory Committee of UNESCO’s Memory of the World Programme which continues until 31 July in Bridgetown, Barbados.


Elderly couple, 1948

In it’s announcement, UNESCO paid tribute to the Agency’s archive: “Since the inception of the agency 60 years ago, UNRWA’s Public Information Office has produced photographs and films covering all the stages of the history of the Palestinian refugees, from the establishment of functional camps in the 1950s, the second flight during the 1967 war, the civil war in Lebanon, the turbulent periods in the second half of the 80s to the consecutive unrest starting in the year of 2000. UNRWA has produced and collected a comprehensive record of still photographs and films, covering most aspects of the lives and history of the Palestine refugees.”


Family picnicking on a beach in Gaza

UNRWA Commissioner General, Karen AbuZayd said, “We are so grateful to UNESCO for this recognition. But the real honour goes to the photographers and their subjects, past and present. They are the ones who have made this such a rich resource, laying out a fascinating and complex narrative in a manner which is both beautiful and thought-provoking”.

UNRWA is working with UNESCO, the Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine to UNESCO and the French National Audio-Visual Institute (INA) to protect and digitize the entire archive. This is part of a range of projects initiated by the Agency as part of “UNRWA at 60” initiative, marking the Agency’s sixtieth anniversary. However, all partners believe the digitized archive will be of great value beyond the “UNRWA at 60” anniversary year as a living archive.


Refugee family in Rafah

UNRWA has become part of contemporary Palestinian history. Some would say it is part of Palestinian identity itself. “Whatever the case”, says AbuZayd, “we are hoping to make our archives accessible to all by digitalizing them. Unfortunately, we haven’t raised sufficient funds yet, but we hope that with this support from UNESCO, there will be more interest in backing the project. The product will be of great value to historians, academics, writers, journalists and anyone interested in the history of Palestine”.

The Memory of the World project has named 193 archives since its inception in 1992. In its mission statement, UNESCO says, “Documentary heritage reflects the diversity of languages, peoples and cultures. It is the mirror of the world and its memory. But this memory is fragile. Every day, irreplaceable parts of this memory disappear for ever. UNESCO has launched the Memory of the World Programme to guard against collective amnesia calling upon the preservation of the valuable archive holdings and library collections all over the world ensuring their wide dissemination”.


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