Secretary-General Praises Palestine Refugee Agency as Lifeline, ‘Beacon of Hope’, at High-level Event marking 60th Anniversary

24 September 2009

Secretary-General Praises Palestine Refugee Agency as Lifeline, ‘Beacon of Hope’, at High-level Event marking 60th Anniversary

24 September 2009
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Secretary-General Praises Palestine Refugee Agency as Lifeline, ‘Beacon of Hope’,

At High-level Event marking 60th Anniversary


Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) high-level meeting in New York, 24 September:

I am honoured to join you in marking the sixtieth anniversary of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.

The presence of so many ministers and other dignitaries during the United Nations busiest week of the year testifies to the respect and admiration that UNRWA enjoys around the world.

The conflict over the future of the British Mandate for Palestine was one of the very first items on the United Nations agenda.  To this day, the search for peace between Israel and its neighbours, particularly the Palestinians, remains one of our main concerns.

We must revive negotiations toward a two-state solution and a comprehensive peace in the Middle East.  We support President Obama's efforts for a resumption of negotiations and will work with the Quartet to that end. 

UNRWA was created in 1949 to provide assistance to refugees pending a political resolution of their plight.  Thanks to the Agency’s care, millions of Palestinians lead better lives.  That mission continues to have powerful resonance.

The United Nations also continues its efforts to address the political dimensions of the conflict.  As we all know too well, the Security Council and General Assembly have adopted many landmark resolutions, but implementation has fallen short.

Those mixed results make UNRWA’s work all the more important.  Indeed, for more than four and a half million registered refugees, UNRWA is a lifeline and a beacon of hope.  The Agency is a powerful expression of the international community’s abiding concern about the Palestinian people and the question of Palestinians.

As we pay tribute to UNRWA’s achievements, we must also acknowledge its severe funding shortages.  These persist even as its caseload grows bigger and more complex.

Successive Commissioners-General have reported to the General Assembly on UNRWA’s funding shortages.  Even as we speak, the Agency’s managers are struggling over painful service cuts they may have to make in their five fields of operation -- and over the humanitarian consequences and possible political repercussions that could ensue.

I am fully aware that we are living in difficult economic times.  Countries are facing serious budgetary problems and other financial constraints that could imperil their traditions of international solidarity and generosity.

As we mark this milestone, I must therefore appeal to all partners to do their part to ensure that UNRWA’s invaluable work is placed –- once and for all -– on a firm financial foundation.  The Agency’s work is too important for it to suffer budget crisis after budget crisis.

Since 1974, the United Nations regular budget has covered only a tiny share of the Agency’s costs, with the rest coming from voluntary contributions.  Perhaps the time has come for the Assembly to review this arrangement.

Over the years, working in adverse conditions, UNRWA has risen again and again to the challenge of providing for Palestinian refugees.

Today I call on the Member States represented here to renew their support for this work until there is a just and durable solution to the refugee problem -– a solution that is an integral part of a comprehensive agreement resulting in two States living side by side in peace and security.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.