Palestinian Refugee Agency’s Task of Serving as Lifeline to Millions amid Habitual Budgetary Constraints, Complex Political Environment, Focus in Fourth Committee

1 November 2011
GA/SPD/496

Palestinian Refugee Agency’s Task of Serving as Lifeline to Millions amid Habitual Budgetary Constraints, Complex Political Environment, Focus in Fourth Committee

1 November 2011
General Assembly
GA/SPD/496
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-sixth General Assembly

Fourth Committee

20th Meeting (PM)

Palestinian Refugee Agency’s Task of Serving as Lifeline to Millions amid Habitual

Budgetary Constraints, Complex Political Environment, Focus in Fourth Committee

Delegate Says Problem is Israeli ‘Tangle of Red Tape’; Israel Says ‘Arab

States Saturated in Petrol Dollars’ Do Not Give Agency ‘Crumbs off the Table’

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) supported some of the most marginalized refugee communities in the world, the Fourth Committee (Special Committee and Decolonization) heard today during the conclusion of its debate on UNRWA, as attention remained focused on the Agency’s habitual, but no less troubling, budgetary constraints and the complex political and security setting in which it worked. 

Frustration was evident among the Israeli delegation, whose representative said that many of the States that had used the Committee’s debate, begun yesterday, to make inflammatory statements against Israel had done little to support UNRWA or Palestine refugees.  People in Washington, London, and Paris, he said, were struggling with economic downturn, but still providing the bulk of support for the Agency, while “Arab States saturated in petrol dollars” did not even give UNRWA “crumbs off the table”.

As for Israel, he said his Government had taken bold steps to help grow the economy in the area.  In June 2010, it had liberalized the system through which civilian goods entered Gaza.  According to Palestinian statistics, Gaza’s real gross domestic product (GDP) had grown in the first half of 2011 and unemployment had declined dramatically.  Hundreds of roadblocks and checkpoints had been removed in the West Bank and its GDP had grown somewhat in 2010, he said. 

During the first nine months of this year, hundreds of thousands of tons of construction materials for international projects had been shipped into Gaza, he said.  More than 150,000 tons were transferred for UNRWA projects alone.  Israel had approved 163 projects overseen by the international community in Gaza.  Yet, 40 per cent of the approved projects had not yet been implemented.  UNRWA had not even begun construction on more than half of all the approved schools, he noted.

He said the only goods that Israel prevented from entering Gaza were arms, weapons, and materials with dual‑use applications.  Israel’s blockade of Gaza was solely intended to prevent the smuggling of arms to Hamas and other terrorist organizations.  Hamas maintained Gaza as an epicentre of terrorism and continued to disturb UNRWA’s work, setting fire to two of its summer camps last year.

Divergent views emerged during the day’s debate.  The representative of Venezuela said that beyond the expulsion of the Palestinian people from their lands, there was also an attempt to erase a people’s history and memory.  Demolitions, evictions and the revocation of residency rights, the blockade in Gaza — were all signs of “memoricide”.  It lurked in the transit fees Israel charged UNRWA and was present in every “tangle of red tape” put forward by Israel that hampered and impaired attempts to rehabilitate homes, schools, and hospitals.

The fundamental problem, offered Cuba’s representative, was not the Agency’s financial situation, but the continued illegal occupation of the Palestinian Territory.  Cuba firmly supported the struggle of the Palestinian people against the occupation that began in 1948 and emphasized that UNRWA undertook its work in difficult conditions.  Moreover, the unacceptable restrictions placed on it were flagrant violations of the United Nations Charter.

Morocco’s representative pointed out that UNRWA had been created temporarily as “a quick fix”, but that it had become the educator, the loaner for microfinance projects, and the health provider.  Now, in the context of overcrowded camps, increasing poverty and long‑term structural underfunding, some 30,000 UNRWA staff were responding to the needs of 750,000 refugees and ensuring the protection of 5 million dispersed across the region, attempting to “make ends meet”. 

That was a task of “herculean proportions”, said South Africa’s delegate, who considered UNRWA to be a “lifeline” to a people who had suffered far too long.  UNRWA had indeed been created as an interim measure, but without it now, not only would the international community have to deal with approximately 5 million stateless persons, but a group starved of their rights.  He called on Member States to increase the Agency’s funding from the United Nations regular budget.

In support of some of the most vulnerable refugee communities in the world, whose meagre economic assets and means of livelihood were subjected to demolitions on a recurring basis, UNRWA, said Bangladesh’s delegate, was rehabilitating and expanding schools to improve educational performance and equip the next generation of Palestinian refugee students with the skills they needed in their quest to seize opportunities and achieve a decent standard of living.

Also speaking were the representatives of Namibia, Kazakhstan, Switzerland, Iceland, Qatar, Kuwait, Brazil, Turkey, Malaysia, Australia, India, Lebanon, Bahrain, Nigeria, Japan, Libya, and Lesotho.  The representative of Nigeria also delivered a general statement on the agenda item of mine action.

The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Friday, 4 November to take up consideration of Israeli practices affecting the human rights of the Palestinian people in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

Background

The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) met this afternoon to continue its consideration of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

General Statement on Mine Action

AUGUSTINE UGOCHUKWU NWOSA ( Nigeria) thanked the Committee Chair for allowing his delegation’s statement to be delivered on a previously completed agenda item, as that showed the flexibility of the Committee.  He said that assistance in mine action was a very important component of the Mine Ban Convention.  In addition to the roles of States, he noted the significant roles played by the United Nations through its Mine Action Team and United Nations Mine Action Service.  He noted that all efforts at removing mines in Nigeria had been undertaken solely by the Nigerian Government, at a cost so far of some $4.5 million.

He said that Nigeria had not received any financial assistance from the Voluntary Trust Fund for Assistance in Mine Action.  The country’s mine action programmes were nevertheless conducted in accordance with the International Mine Action Standard, and were gender- and age‑sensitive.  The Federal Government of Nigeria had budgeted the sum of $5 million for landmine victim assistance.  He stressed his country’s willingness to strive to better the lots of victims of anti‑personnel landmines through their empowerment and by enabling them to live their lives “in fulfilment of their God‑given destinies”.

Statements on UNRWA

HAIM ASSARAF ( Israel) said that his country had continued to do its utmost to facilitate UNRWA’s operations while taking all measures necessary to uphold its own security.  Commissioner-General Filippo Grandi and other UNRWA officials had described the close relationship they enjoyed with the Israeli authorities in their public statements.  Yet, time and again, the Fourth Committee “churned out anti‑Israeli politicized resolutions” that bore no basis in the facts on the ground.

He said that the only goods that Israel prevented from entering Gaza were arms, weapons, and materials with dual‑use applications.  Israel’s blockade of Gaza was solely intended to prevent the smuggling of arms to Hamas and other terrorist organizations.  Terrorist rockets in Gaza were travelling further, their warheads were getting larger, and their method of delivery was becoming sophisticated.  That was a direct result of the continuous smuggling of advanced weapons into the area, and Israel had a fundamental duty to stop that dangerous flow of weapons.

The Israeli government had taken bold steps to help grow the economy in the area, he said.  In June 2010, the Government had liberalized the system through which civilian goods entered Gaza.  According to Palestinian statistics, Gaza’s real gross domestic product (GDP) growth amounted to 28 per cent in the first half of 2011.  The unemployment rate had declined dramatically.  Hundreds of roadblocks and checkpoints had been removed in the West Bank and its GDP had grown by 8 per cent in 2010.  During the first nine months of the year, hundreds of thousands of tons of construction materials for international projects had been shipped into Gaza.  More than 150,000 tons were transferred for UNRWA projects alone.  Israel had approved 163 projects overseen by the international community in Gaza.  Yet, 40 per cent of the approved projects had not yet been implemented.  UNRWA had not even begun construction on more than half of all the approved schools.  There had also been instances in which UNRWA officials had made controversial political statements, which undermined the Agency’s neutrality and harmed its mission.

Many of the States that had used this debate to make inflammatory statements against Israel had done little to support UNRWA or Palestine refugees in any way, he declared.  People in Washington, London, and Paris were struggling with economic downturn, but still providing the bulk of support for UNRWA, while “Arab States saturated in petrol dollars” did not even give UNRWA “crumbs off the table”.

Speaking of the “destructive role played by Hamas” in the region, he said that the organization openly called for Israel’s destruction and maintained Gaza as an epicentre of terrorism.  Hamas also continued to disturb UNRWA’s work, setting fire to two UNRWA summer camps in May and June 2010.  Recently, 243 schools in Gaza had been paralyzed by a union strike, following UNRWA’s decision to suspend the head of the teachers union for engaging in political activity with Hamas officials.  Israel hoped that Palestine would “take Israel’s outstretched hand and sit down at the negotiating table, instead of simply offering the same empty rhetoric in international forums”, said the delegate. 

JEROBEAM SHAANIKA ( Namibia) said that assistance to the refugees, who had lived perpetually in camps for decades, was vital, pending a just resolution to their plight and the realization of their “most cherished dream”.  While the region had experienced sweeping and profound changes this year, the people of Palestine continued to face uncertainty under occupation and economic hardship.  While strengthening UNRWA was critical to the Agency’s operational success, the international community must not forget the issue of occupation, which remained the major source of perpetuating the suffering of Palestinians and relegated them to refugee status.

He stressed that the Palestinians deserved to live in dignity, and were entitled to create a State of their own.  His delegation supported the admission of Palestine into the United Nations as a full member, because the people of Palestine, like any other people on the globe, had the right to their land and creation of a viable State to live side by side with the State of Israel in peace and security. 

BYRGANYM AITIMOVA ( Kazakhstan) speaking on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), said the group was concerned about the continuing deterioration in UNRWA’s financial situation.  The OIC was also concerned that the expected deficit had become structural, and she urged Member States to make every effort to fully fund UNRWA’s budget requirements for 2012‑2013, and to consider future contribution levels that provided the Agency with sustainable and predictable funding.  She supported UNRWA’s request for additional funds from the United Nations regular budget, as recommended in the Secretary‑General’s report.

She said that the OIC was also concerned about the lack of sufficient progress in the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip, where UNRWA was the largest agency providing services, covering 70 per cent of the population.  The approval process, as implemented by the Israeli authorities, and the capacity of the crossing point severely restricted the flow of goods in and out of Gaza, and should be abolished.  The OIC was alarmed by the forced displacement of refugees and other Palestinians of the West Bank, and she strongly condemned those actions, which were a clear breach of international law.

STÉPHANE REY ( Switzerland) said that it was of the utmost importance that UNRWA continued to fulfil its mandate, in cooperation with national and local authorities.  That applied in particular to Syria, where the economic situation had deteriorated considerably over the past few months, affecting refugees.  Switzerland also urged the Lebanese authorities to effectively implement the legislation adopted in 2010 by the Parliament aimed at facilitating access for refugees to employment opportunities.

The international community, he stated, must provide the Agency with the necessary funds for delivering effectively.  With ever increasing financial pressure relating to growing refugee numbers, political turmoil, and increasing living costs, the gap between needs and resources was widening.  Lack of funds for the much‑needed reconstruction of the Nahr al‑Bared camp was causing additional financial burdens.  Switzerland urged donors to increase their commitment; it would maintain its financial commitment at the current level.

He added that ongoing and upcoming reforms reflecting UNRWA’s need to remain up to date with global and regional developments would require the Agency to stay flexible while safeguarding its mandate.  It was essential to optimize the efficiency of service delivery, in order to reach a maximum of vulnerable target groups with sustained quality services.  Alternative approaches, such as the provision of cash to support sustainable poverty alleviation, could contribute to optimizing the efficiency and impact of aid, as well as support local markets.

GRÉTA GUNNARSDÓTTIR ( Iceland) said that the situation of Palestine refugees in East Jerusalem and “Area C” was of great concern.  The Israeli practices of demolishing homes, basic infrastructure and sources livelihoods continued to devastate refugee families.  Further, the vast majority of the population in Gaza were Palestinian refugees.  She welcomed measures taken by Israel to improve access of goods and construction materials into Gaza, and reiterated that the blockade was contrary to international humanitarian law and should be lifted immediately.

She commended Lebanon for the amendments made to grant certain rights to Palestine refugees in 2010, related to their access to the workforce and to the Lebanese Social Security Fund.  That was a necessary step to address the needs of the 56 per cent of refugees who were of working age yet unemployed in Lebanon, and to provide them with the means to lift themselves out of poverty.  She urged Lebanon to fully implement the amendments and include additional professions.

The refugee community in the West bank remained one of the most vulnerable of the Palestinian population, she said.  Unemployment was a main challenge, and in that regard, she welcomed UNRWA’s job creation project, which provided opportunities to the most vulnerable.  In spite of Iceland’s financial constraints, her Government had and would continue to support UNRWA, and she hoped that other Member States would do the same.

MOHAMMED AL‑KUWARI (Qatar) aligning with the statement of the OIC, said that in spite of the difficult circumstances in which it operated, UNRWA had been providing refugees in various countries of the Middle East with health, social, relief, and educational services.  Paying “special tribute” to UNRWA’s education programme, conducted with technical support from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), he stated that the programme provided basic and technical education to thousands of young Palestinian children, thereby helping the social and economic development of the Palestinian refuges.  It also helped refugees maintain cultural identity.  However, UNRWA’s noble efforts to alleviate the suffering of Palestinians might go in vain if the Israeli authorities continued to tighten their blockade against unarmed Palestinian people, especially in the Gaza Strip.

He said that the Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip, which had resumed last week, in addition to the inhumane blockade that had been running for four years, had led to the deterioration of the living conditions in Gaza, which was virtually on the brink of economic collapse.  Concurrently, there was a worsening of the humanitarian situation of the Palestinian refugees in the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, especially in East Jerusalem.  Qatar called on the international community to shoulder its responsibility to compel the Israeli Government to refrain from military attacks in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

UNRWA’s vital role and services were indispensable in providing the minimum necessary to live a decent and productive life and to enjoy basic human rights, he said.  In conclusion, he called on the international community to support the efforts for an independent and viable Palestinian State with East Jerusalem as its capital, and expressed satisfaction over the step taken yesterday by UNESCO to admit the State of Palestine as a full member.

MARIA WALESKA VIVAS MENDOZA ( Venezuela), associating her statement with that delivered by the Non‑Aligned Movement, said that UNRWA carried out its work in difficult financial conditions and surrounded by the hardships of the people it was mandated to assist.  After “al‑nakba” 62 years ago, the Israeli army had systematically occupied Palestinian towns and villages, forcibly expelled its population, looted homes and destroyed belongings, and appropriated the material and cultural possessions of the Palestinian people.  That, according to the Israeli historian Ilan Pappe, constituted the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, she said.

She said that that enormous human tragedy had been followed by the complicit silence of the West and an international community ashamed by the Holocaust.  That same Israeli historian further said that the ethnic cleaning of Palestinians had not stopped with the expulsion of a people from their lands, but went beyond to attempt to erase a people’s history and memory.  That "memoricide" was evident in East Jerusalem through demolitions, evictions and the revocation of residency rights, and could be seen in the siege in Gaza through the blockade.  That “memoricide” was there, lurking in the transit fees charged by Israel to the Agency, and was present in every tangle of red tape put forward by Israel that hampered and impaired attempts to rehabilitate homes, schools, and hospitals.  Now, UNESCO’s budget had been threatened by one of its Member States because that organization had dared to acknowledge that Palestine existed.

However, the complete “murder of memory” had not yet taken place, she said.  Although the Agency’s existence was an ongoing reminder of the plight of Palestinians, it made a significant impact on the lives of those it assisted.  She reiterated that as long as there was no solution to the Palestinian question, it would be the responsibility of the international community to provide the Agency with the resources necessary to do its vital work.

HASAN ABULHASAN ( Kuwait) said that UNRWA’s efforts should be commended since it had spared no efforts in providing health, education, and humanitarian services to the Palestinian refugees.  The continued destruction of the Palestinian infrastructure by the Israeli authorities made its work more difficult.  Israel had imposed an embargo on Gaza for four years now and prevented the access of basic and humanitarian goods to Gaza.  Israel also continued to restrain health services.

He said that Kuwait, after joining the UNRWA Advisory Committee in 2011, had increased its annual commitment to the Agency.  His country supported the content of the Commissioner‑General’s report and called on the international community to support the Agency to “uphold its activities in saving the lives of Palestinians” and on donor countries to live up to their commitments.  Kuwait also wished to confirm the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes, pursuant to the General Assembly Resolution 194, and it supported the establishment of a Palestinian State with East Jerusalem as capital.

MARIA TERESA MESQUITA PESSÔA ( Brazil) said her country had been seeking to increase support to UNRWA, mindful of the manifold challenges faced by the refugee population.  She stressed that the humanitarian situation in Gaza was unacceptable and unsustainable, and she welcomed the exchange of prisoners of last October and the orderly manner in which the agreement that made it possible was implemented.  The immediate and sustained opening of crossings was imperative, and the resumption of regular exports from Gaza was urgently needed as a way to revive an economy that had been crippled by four years of blockade.

She expressed concern over the alarming financial situation of UNRWA, and said the worrying shortfall in resources anticipated, not only in 2011, but also for the next biennium, could affect the provisions and services that were at the core of the Agency’s work.  The international community needed to reaffirm, in the current times of change, its shared commitment to the well‑being, human development and human rights of the Palestinian refugees.  Social and economic development was essential for the unity and cohesion of the Palestinian State, as the Palestinian institution‑building efforts had correctly reflected.

ERTUĞRUL APAKAN ( Turkey) said that UNRWA’s annual report had made it clear that the Agency faced serious funding challenges.  Turkey wished to underscore that the Agency could not and should not be left to carry the burden of that acute financial shortage on its own; the international responsibility must ensure that UNRWA had the capacity to implement its mandate.  Full and continued support from the international budget, therefore, was essential.  All Member States should note the recommendations of the Working Group.  Turkey had doubled its national contribution to UNRWA.

Further, the “inhumane and unlawful blockade” must end, he stated.  The tragedy of the Palestinian refugees had unfolded day by day while UNRWA performed admirably in providing much‑needed services.  Expressing support for the two‑ State solution, he concluded that Turkey would continue to back an easing of the predicament of the Palestinian refugees.

AMINE CHABI ( Morocco) said that by delivering programmes and services to nearly 5 million Palestinian refugees, UNRWA had contributed to regional stability.  As the Agency continued its work, it faced many challenges, including a 4.2 percent rise in the number of Palestinian refugees this year and an unemployment rate among refugees that in 2010 stood around 29.4 percent.  Restrictions of movement imposed on Palestinian refugees hindered their economic development, specifically access to employment and essential goods and services.

He noted that the Agency’s multifaceted mandate, in contrast, promoted the refugees’ human development and empowerment.  In that regard, he welcomed the Agency’s “reform agenda”.  With 30,000 staff responding to the direct needs of 750,000 refugees and ensuring the protection of 5 million dispersed across the region, the Agency continued to attempt to “make ends meet”.  It worked within the difficult context of overcrowded refugee camps, increased poverty among refugees, and long‑term structural underfunding.

Noting that the plight of Palestinian refugees was “a motive of great concern” for Morocco, he said that through the Bayt Mal al‑Quds agency, the Moroccan people had donated $7 million in 2010 to rehabilitation projects and the funding of Palestinian schools and hospitals in Jerusalem.  Moroccan civil society had also developed successful partnerships with UNRWA.  The Morocco‑Palestine Solidarity Association, for example, had contributed $85,000 to UNRWA’s mobile clinic programme, which delivered medical services to isolated and vulnerable Palestinian communities in the West Bank.

Palestinian refugees were a people in exile, he said, adding that UNRWA had been created temporarily as “a quick fix”, but it had become the educator, the loaner for microfinance projects, and the health provider.  Since its birth, the Agency had striven “to do more with less”. 

HUSSEIN HANIFF ( Malaysia) said the root cause of the Palestinian refugees’ suffering was the unlawful occupation of their Territory by Israel, which had, for half a century, violated international laws.  Israel had no qualms in using indiscriminate violence and had initiated collective punishment against Palestinian civilians, with impunity.  Palestinian civilians were not the only victims of those deplorable acts, as UNRWA personnel and facilities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory continued to be badly affected by Israel’s malicious acts.  The illegal blockage in Gaza was choking the livelihood of the Palestinians and had seriously impaired UNRWA’s reconstruction projects by restricting the movement of people, essential goods and construction materials.

He said that in the three years since Israel had launched operation “Cast Lead” on Gaza, the situation there remained unchanged.  He urged immediate steps to be taken in accordance with Security Council resolution 1880 (2009) and the invocation of relevant provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention to ensure the free flow of essential and commercial supplies.  Given the present situation, he was concerned that UNRWA remained under‑financed.  International attention was needed to prevent further undermining of the Agency’s ability to discharge its mandate.  He reiterated the call contained in relevant reports for States that were in a position to do so to consider contributing or increasing their contributions.  He also called on all parties to act honestly in the search of a just and lasting peace, which simultaneously would address the issue of Palestine refugees, which the world had confronted for more than six decades.

PHILIPPA KING ( Australia) commended UNRWA for providing essential services and humanitarian assistance to Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  She welcomed the Agency’s continued emphasis on fiscal responsibility and organizational reform, which was necessary for increasing transparency and the efficiency of aid delivery.  Noting host countries’ substantial in‑kind contributions to the Agency, she encouraged non‑traditional donors and other countries, particularly those in the region, to make contributions as well.

Having contributed around $53 million to the agency since 2006, Australia was a long‑standing supporter of the Agency and would be among its top 10 donors in the next five years, she said.  With plans to give more than $300 million to the Agency during that period, Australia’s assistance would be “unearmarked”.  That type of funding would allow the Agency to make sound, strategic humanitarian aid decisions in areas including livelihoods, the provision of scholarships for institutional and governance development, and water and sanitation projects in Palestinian schools.  It would also include $120 million to the Palestinian Authority through the World Bank Palestinian Reform and Development Plan Trust Fund.

In closing, she said Australia supported a negotiated two‑State solution that would allow an independent Palestinian State to live side by side with Israel.  In that regard, she welcomed a timetable for negotiations, as described by the Middle East Quartet, and called upon all parties to agree to an agenda and to refrain from provocation.

PREM CHAND GUPTA ( India) said that UNRWA was a symbol of the international community’s commitment to the well‑being of the Palestinian refugees until a just and durable settlement of the issue was achieved.  The Agency was facing severe challenges, particularly the increasing funding gap that was occurring at a time of increased demand.  The shortage of funds had direct implications on the Agency’s work, as thousands of Palestinian students who were otherwise eligible could not make it to UNRWA schools due to a lack of classrooms and people suffering from life‑threatening diseases were unable to access tertiary care.  The quality of services had also been affected by the resource crunch and increasing costs.  He supported efforts to enhance the donor base, and emphasized that it was important that the international community show its commitment to the cause, despite the current difficult global situation.

He said that while there had been some improvement in security‑related restrictions on the West Bank and movement of humanitarian supplies into Gaza, restrictions on movement due to the separation barrier, closures and curfews in the Occupied Palestinian Territory was causing severe hardships.  He supported the Agency Chief’s call for the removal of restrictions on its staff and goods.  He also hoped for the expeditious implementation of the amended labour law in Lebanon to ensure better employment opportunities for Palestinian refugees.

For its part, India had continued its development support to the Palestinian Authority, enhancing its annual contribution to UNRWA to $1 million on top of the $1 million for the Agency’s 2010 flash appeal, he said.  During the last two years, India had also contributed $10 million annually as budgetary support to the Palestinian Authority.  His country was offering 100 slots to the Palestinian Authority for capacity‑building and human resource development under its technical and economic cooperation programme, and it had undertaken joint projects with partners in Palestine, including for the development of a sports complex.

India had been steadfast in its support of the Palestinian people’s struggle for a sovereign, independent, viable and united State of Palestine.  Its Prime Minister looked forward to welcoming Palestine as an equal member of the United Nations and he expected the Security Council to endorse Palestine’s application so that the United Nations General Assembly could take further action.

MIRA DAHER (Lebanon), associating her statement with that made on behalf of the Non‑Aligned Movement, said that according to the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, a refugee was "a person who owing to a well‑founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, was outside the country of his nationality and was unable or, owing to such fear, was unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country”.  That was the harsh reality of a refugee — devoid of all human rights — and that was the condition of the Palestinian refugees since the “nakba” of 1948.

Focusing on UNRWA’s budgetary shortages, she said, was an important concern, but the primary goal was the right of the refugees to return.  The work of UNRWA was a reminder of the refugees’ humanitarian plight, and UNRWA remained the basic source of services.  Pending the refugees’ return, the commitment of the international community through UNRWA was crucial.  Lebanon urged the donor community to mobilize the needed sources, particularly for the General Fund.  Lebanon also urged the General Assembly to consider additional funding.

She said that the Israeli blockade and taxes levied and the requirement to palletize all container shipments significantly increased UNRWA’s expenses.  The blockade was obstructing freedom of movement and the arrival of UNRWA supplies, such as building materials, as a result of which refugee camps and schools in Gaza were not being built.  That blockade, which punished more than half a million Palestinians, must end.

Lebanon, as a host to 400,000 Palestinian refugees, was aware of their difficult reality, she said.  UNRWA partnered with the Lebanese government in providing for the just needs of the refugees.  Her Government with its limited resources had spared no effort to improve the refugees’ living conditions, including by easing restrictions on refugees to enter labour markets.   Lebanon appreciated UNRWA’s work in the reconstruction of the Nahr al‑Bared camp.  She concluded that the problem of the Palestinian refugees was not just a humanitarian concern but also a political one.

BASO SANGQU (South Africa), associating his statement with that made on behalf of the Non‑Aligned Movement, said the provision of assistance to the refugee populations was a task of herculean proportions.  He said the extension of UNRWA’s mandate was a lifeline to a people who had suffered for far too long.  The international community must not be swayed into a sense of complacency because it was accustomed to UNRWA’s presence on the ground, and must not ignore the present climate of popular uprisings in certain regions of the world by ordinary people who sought only to be able to maintain a decent standard of living.

He said that all were fully aware that UNRWA had been created as a subsidiary body of the General Assembly to provide education, relief, social services, microfinance, and infrastructure to the Palestinian refugee population as an interim measure.  Without the Agency, not only would the international community have to deal with approximately 5 million stateless persons, but a group starved of their rights.  Spanning critical interventions, ranging from comprehensive primary health‑care services, UNRWA had also contributed to achieving Millennium Development Goal 2, as well as ensuring universal access to education, which was a basic human right.

South Africa would continue to support capacity‑building programmes for Palestinians, and Member States should likewise increase the Agency’s funding from the United Nations regular budget.  UNRWA’s support for the millions of Palestinian refugees was proof of the Agency’s vital importance.  While the mandate was a temporary one, its support would in fact be required beyond the settlement of a political solution until the humanitarian situation of Palestinians could be improved.  He supported the call for Palestine to take its rightful place among the international family of nations, and he said South Africa would play its role as a present Security Council member to support the Palestinian’s move for State membership.

DAYLENIS MORENA GUERRA ( Cuba), associating with the statement of the Non‑Aligned Movement, said that the entire region was shaken by instability and insecurity because of the illegal occupation of Palestine by Israel.  Cuba called for the immediate halt to the illegal occupation and the immediate and complete lifting of the cruel blockade against Gaza.  Her country supported the request for Palestine to be admitted as a full member of the United Nations.  The Security Council must speak out in a positive manner without further delay.  That was the wish of most Member States.  Cuba also called on the Security Council not to use the “double standards that characterized its usual actions” on this issue.  Cuba welcomed the decision by UNESCO to admit Palestine; that reflected the legitimate desires of the international community.

After the brutal war at the end of 2008, she stated, the civilian Palestine population was in even greater vulnerability.  Israel must desist from its aggressive policy that was causing more social and economic damage.  UNRWA undertook its work in difficult conditions.  The unacceptable restrictions placed on it were flagrant violations of the United Nations Charter.  Cuba reiterated the importance of giving the UNRWA full support for undertaking its activities.  Further, the financial situation was of great concern, and Cuba stressed the need for ensuring a sustainable level of funding to UNRWA.  But the fundamental issue was not about the Agency’s financial situation, but about the continued illegal occupation of the Palestinian Territory.  Cuba firmly supported the struggle of the Palestinian people against the occupation that began in 1948.

FAISAL AL‑ZAYANI ( Bahrain) said the question of the Palestine refugees was at the core of the Israeli‑Palestinian conflict.  He thanked all Governments that were hosting refugees, and pointed to the deteriorating situation of those refugees as outlined in the reports before the Committee.  There were a “multitude” of conclusions being drawn regarding that situation in the occupied Palestinian territory.  The Advisory Commission had noted with grave concern that the separation wall, closures, and curfews as well as other restrictions imposed by the Israeli authorities on the movement of people in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip aggravated the suffering of the population affected by those measures.  The Advisory Commission saw that those restrictions, including those imposed on East Jerusalem, continued to impede economic development.

He said that UNRWA should not be overwhelmed by financial and operational difficulties.  Yet, that Agency, with its remarkable track record of achievements, continued to suffer from a structural deficit in its budget, which it tried to overcome by coming up with innovative methods and approaches, and undertaking activities more amenable to meeting the needs of the Palestinian people.

AUGUSTINE UGOCHUKWU NWOSA ( Nigeria) said that the deplorable living conditions of Palestinian refugees numbering over 4.7 million people remained a scar in the collective conscience of humanity.  The Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip, incapacitating the economic and social life of the area, worsened the plight of the people for whom life was already a misery.  His delegation “frowned” at the constant denial and violation of the rights of the Palestinian refugees by the Israeli authorities and called for respect of humanitarian and human rights law and other relevant United Nations conventions, to which Israel was a signatory.  However, it only honoured those commitments at its own convenience.

He said that the imperative of economic slowdown had come to mean more financial discipline, and considering the growth rate of Palestinians in refugee camps, that fact could not be overemphasized.  Nor could the impediments to UNRWA’s work, which should be viewed within the larger context of finding a lasting solution to the Middle East problem.  Nigeria believed that both Israel and Palestine were destined to live side by side in security and safety, within well‑defined borders, which should be the outcome of a negotiated settlement.

TORU SUGIO ( Japan) said that Japan had initiated its assistance to the Palestinians through UNRWA in 1953, even before its accession to the United Nations.  The aid provided by Japan to UNRWA to date amounted to approximately $600 million.  Japan attached particular importance to assisting Palestinian refugees in the area of human resource development through educational and vocational training, based on the strong belief that the Palestinian youth held the responsibility for a future independent Palestinian State in their hands. 

He said Japan would also continue to advance the “Corridor for Peace and Prosperity” initiative, designed to develop the Jordan Valley through various projects, including an agro‑industrial park and a sewage system.  Furthermore, Japan was now working on launching training programmes in agriculture, public health, and support to small- and medium‑size companies, in cooperation with Indonesia, and preparing for a Japan‑ Malaysia joint mission to the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

As a long‑standing partner of UNRWA, Japan was very concerned about the Agency’s serious financial situation, he said.  Japan had made an additional contribution of $10 million dollars early this year and urged the international community to remain steadfast in its support of UNRWA and the Palestinian refugees.  Further, Japan welcomed the efforts made by the UNRWA staff to implement the organizational development process to improve administration and operations.

ABDUL MOMEN ( Bangladesh) said restrictions on the movements of the Agency’s personnel and vehicles severely hampered its humanitarian activities.  He reiterated his country’s demand on Israel to ensure unrestricted mobility and non‑interference in the Agency’s activities so that it could perform its mandated responsibilities.  The situation in the West Bank and East Jerusalem was no less worrisome, he said.  Many Palestinians continued to suffer major restrictions on movement, residence and other fundamental freedoms, while Israeli settlements expanded with each passing month.

He said that UNRWA was also supporting some of the most vulnerable and marginalized refugee communities, including those affected by the West Bank barrier and Bedouin communities, whose meagre economic assets and means of livelihood were subjected to demolitions on a recurring basis.  In East Jerusalem, the Agency was rehabilitating and expanding schools to improve educational performance and equip the next generation of Palestinian refugee students with the skills they needed in their quest to seize opportunities and achieve a decent standard of living.  He thanked donor countries and relevant agencies for their support and services, and called upon the international community to generously contribute in response to the Commissioner‑General’s appeal for rehabilitation and emergency assistance for the refugees at the Nahr al‑Bared Camp in Lebanon.

EZZIDIN BELKHEIR (Libya), associating his statement with that of the Non‑Aligned Movement, said that there was no doubt that the settlement policy, arbitrary restrictions, and repressive military acts by the Israeli occupation authorities in occupied Palestine represented the greatest obstacles faced by UNRWA in upholding its functions and the reason for the tragic conditions of the Palestinian people, particularly the refugees.  Their living conditions were extremely difficult and their socio‑economic situation was deteriorating, particularly in the Gaza Strip, West Bank, East Jerusalem and other areas.

The Israeli occupation authorities, he said, had clearly violated international humanitarian laws and the United Nations Charter; therefore the legal responsibility lay primarily on the shoulders of the occupation.  Libya called on Israeli authorities to rapidly uphold international conventions and laws, and lift the inhumane blockade of the Gaza Strip.  The same went for the crossings and the separation wall, which had led to repressive restrictions on freedom of movement and hindered the transport of humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians.  He stressed UNRWA’s vital role in providing basic services to the Palestinian people and called for more efforts by the Agency, the international community, non‑governmental organizations, and international financial institutions to provide political support and mobilize financial resources for the Agency’s work.

MAFIROANE MOTANYANE (Lesotho), associating his statement with that made on behalf of the Non‑Aligned Movement, said that the path towards the attainment of the noble goal of assisting the Palestinian refugees had been riddled with complications.  The political and security climate in the Occupied Palestinian Territory had presented the greatest challenge, and UNRWA had not been able to effectively discharge its mandate due to the blockade.

He said that the period in the Palestinian refugee camps had been inordinately long and had had devastating social and psychological effects.  The humanitarian crisis faced by the Palestine refugees was known to all; the group suffered from armed conflicts and all sorts of human rights abuses.  UNRWA found it increasingly difficult to provide food and shelter to the refugees due to Israel’s blockade, and he stressed that lifting that unfortunate measure must be a priority of the international community.  The Agency’s funding gap was also of great concern, and he encouraged donors to increase their contributions, and for new donors to come forward.  The Agency needed to continue its “splendid” work until justice was done and the Palestinians lived in their own land in peace and security.

Closing Remarks

FILIPPO GRANDI, Commissioner-General of UNRWA, thanked those who had participated in the meeting, and said that a strong UNRWA was still needed under the persistence of the difficult political circumstance in the region, especially in the absence of any significant progress in the political efforts to reach a conclusion to the conflict.

As had been said in his opening Statement, he assured delegates that the Agency would continue to fulfil the mandate the General Assembly had given to it and had confirmed many times over, during the past six decades.  UNRWA would continue to strive to provide services to Palestine refugees throughout its five fields of operation, and would endeavour to improve the quality of those services.  The Agency would also continue to advocate, privately and publicly, for the rights of the Palestine refugees in all those five fields.

He said that he shared the view of many delegations that the blockade was counterproductive for everyone, in Gaza and in the region, and was illegal according to the terms of international law and should therefore be lifted.  The Agency needed the support of delegations in the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) when the budget was discussed.  An increase in support from within the United Nations budget was extremely important for UNRWA’s functioning.

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