|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Sixty-seventh General Assembly
16th Meeting (PM)
‘Tiptoeing Away from UNRWA Not an Option’, Commissioner-General Tells Fourth
Committee, Warning Cuts in Services Politically Risky, Morally Wrong
Working Group on UNRWA Financing Says Funds Used to Offset
Shortfalls Virtually Exhausted, Meeting December Payroll at Risk
It was not only politically risky but also morally wrong to reduce the services provided by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) heard today as it began its consideration of that Agency.
While the situation of the Palestine refugees was a political question, said UNRWA’s Commissioner-General, Filippo Grandi, as he briefed the Committee, they were first and foremost people, “ordinary men and women who rightly insisted on not being discarded and forgotten as the flotsam and jetsam of history”.
Yet, as the Arab Spring was bringing dynamism and attention to the Middle East, Palestinians remained sidelined, increasingly vulnerable to new conflicts, he lamented. In the past year, the refugees had found themselves caught in the crisis in Syria. Their lives, safety and rights were at risk in a country where they had traditionally enjoyed generous hospitality, complemented by access to UNRWA services, employment and enjoyment of basic rights.
Highlighting the unpredictability of UNRWA’s funding, he added that though the Agency provided public services to an entire population across several countries, “in State-like fashion”, it was reliant on voluntary financing. Compounding that structural problem, overall contributions to its fund had remained static while refugee needs had grown and costs had increased.
If UNRWA was to “fold” ahead of a political agreement, there would be tangible human consequences, he added during the interactive dialogue that followed his address. Half a million children would not go to school, and without health services provided by UNRWA, much would be taken away from the little that the refugees had.
Nothing less than a “quantum and sustained leap” in the international community’s commitment could resolve the funding needs, he stated, calling on all Member States, but particularly “those countries whose economic growth was matched by a more assertive political role”, to step up support. Tiptoeing away from UNRWA was simply not an option for the international community.
Echoing those concerns, Andreas Lovold, Rapporteur of the Working Group on the Financing of UNRWA, informed the Committee that the Agency’s working capital, which had been used to compensate for shortfalls of income against expenditures, was now virtually exhausted. With an anticipated funding gap of $37.4 million, the Agency might not be able to meet the December payroll for its 31,000 staff.
During the general debate, several countries from the Middle East expressed concern over the funding deficit as well as the plight of the refugees. A “direct and immediate stakeholder in the Palestine question”, Jordan, said its representative, hosted the majority of the Palestinian refugees. In addition, the country was now host to more than 215,000 Syrian refugees. UNRWA relieved some of the pressures, he said, calling for international support of its operations.
The European Union and its member States was UNRWA’s largest donor, said its delegate, expressing the Union’s determination to ensure that the essential humanitarian and development needs of the refugees were continually met until there was a just, fair and agreed solution. Between 2000 and 2012, the Union had provided 1.4 billion euros to the Agency. Its aim was “more and better services for the money spent”, he said and encouraged the Agency to keep quality and affordability at the heart of its reform process.
Saluting UNRWA staff for their invaluable work amid political upheaval and economic crisis, Norway’s representative commended the Agency as a significant contributor to making Palestine ready for statehood. The Agency had utilized its resources effectively, with improvements in financial management and transparency, he said, encouraging it to work in closer coordination with other United Nations agencies and humanitarian and development actors, in order to avoid parallel systems of service provision.
The representative of Lebanon, as well as a representative of the Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine, participated in the interactive dialogue.
The representatives of Iran, Russian Federation, South Africa, Qatar, Australia, Kuwait, Cuba, Venezuela and Switzerland spoke during the debate.
Also speaking in that segment was the Permanent Observer of the Holy See and the representative of the Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine.
The Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. tomorrow, 7 November, to conclude its consideration of UNRWA.
When the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) met this afternoon, it had before it the report of the Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (document A/67/13). It provides a contextual overview of the Agency’s operations, including political, economic and security considerations, as well as the priorities in its five fields of operation — Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank and the Gaza Strip — and a review of its subprogramme within the framework of the Agency’s human development goals, in line with its medium-term strategy for 2010-2015.
The report finds that Palestine refugees experienced varying political, economic and security conditions against the background of events in the Middle East and North Africa. Already vulnerable and suffering the effects of over six decades of displacement and dispossession, they also contended with the impact of the continuing global economic downturn and persistent funding shortfalls which precluded the Agency from meeting their basic needs.
On the subject of field priorities in 2011, the report states that in Jordan field management continued to identify efficiencies and savings to address funding shortfalls, while working to implement health and education reform strategies in line with Agency-wide processes. Likewise in Lebanon, the Agency continued improving the quality of services delivered to refugees, including by establishing a better monitoring and evaluation mechanism for hospitalization services. Amid the conflict in Syria in 2011, and its severe economic repercussions, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) expanded its humanitarian assistance there using project funding, prioritizing livelihood support to the elderly, female-headed households and families with special needs. Recurring violence had curtailed some services in and around a number of refugee camps. In the West Bank, the Agency undertook a new community engagement programme designed to enhance service delivery and improve refugee self-reliance, among other activities. In the Gaza Strip, it strengthened efforts to better target assistance to those most in need through wider application of a poverty survey. Reconstruction of the Gaza Strip also remained a key priority.
Noting progress made on the Agency’s four human development goals — a long and healthy life, acquired knowledge and skills, a decent standard of living and human rights enjoyed to the fullest — the report stated that despite the difficult conditions prevailing in camp communities, communicable diseases were under control, and infant, child mortality and maternal rates had declined substantially over the past two decades, although increasing numbers of patients needed life-long care for chronic diseases, such as hypertension and diabetes, and demand for health care was escalating. UNRWA operated 691 schools, providing free basic education for around half a million Palestine refugee children. Literacy rates among Palestine refugees compared well with regional and global levels. Further, the Agency’s growing ability to assess poverty at the household level and target the most vulnerable ensured that resources went to those most in need, and rigorous assessment of the Agency’s work had demonstrated that resources positively affect abject poverty levels.
The report notes that the achievement of the Agency’s first three human development goals relied on the fourth — ensuring that human rights were enjoyed to the fullest. The provision of essential services by UNRWA, and ensuring access to them under different circumstances, including conflict, was integral to refugees’ enjoyment of rights, including economic and social rights associated with the Agency’s core areas of service delivery, as well as civil and political rights, such as the right to life.
The Committee also had before it the report of the Working Group on the Financing of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (document A/67/382), which describes the Group’s activities in 2012 and provides a detailed outline of UNRWA’s current financial situation. The report was unanimously adopted by the Working Group at its 11 September meeting.
The Working Group, in its report, recognized the essential humanitarian role played by UNRWA’s emergency operations in alleviating the hardship of the refugees, particularly in times of increased instability and crisis. Noting with serious concern the structural nature of the Agency’s financial crisis, the Working Group urged all potential donors to redouble their efforts to fully respond to the Agency’s emergency appeal for 2012. Commending the Commissioner-General and all UNRWA staff for their tireless efforts, the Group also expressed concern about the continued tight restrictions on the movement of UNRWA staff and humanitarian goods into and out of the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
Also before the Committee was the report of the Secretary-General on Persons displaced as a result of the June 1967 and subsequent hostilities (document A/67/331). It refers to correspondence between the Secretary-General and the Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations regarding actions taken by the Government of Israel in implementing the relevant provisions of the General Assembly resolution 66/73. It also presents the information made available by the Commissioner-General of UNRWA to the Secretary-General on the return of refugees registered with the Agency to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip from Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.
The Committee also had before it the report of the Secretary-General on Palestine refugees’ properties and their revenues (document A/67/334), which refers to note verbales sent by the Secretary-General to Israel and all other Member States, on 17 May, drawing their attention to the relevant provisions of General Assembly resolutions 66/72 to 66/75 and requesting information concerning any action related to their implementation. The report notes that replies were received from Denmark, Burkina Faso and Israel, responding to, among others, the request contained in paragraph 4 of resolution 66/75.
Also available was a note by the Secretary-General concerning the transmission of the sixty-sixth report of the United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine, covering the period from 1 September 2011 to 31 August 2012 (document A/67/343).
FILIPPO GRANDI, Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, paying tribute to five of his staff members recently killed in Syria, stated that at a time when the Arab Spring had brought dynamism and attention to the Middle East, Palestinians — and Palestine refugees in particular — remained sidelined, forgotten by the international community and increasingly vulnerable amid new and old conflicts. With no prospect of an early, just solution to their plight, UNRWA remained a point of reference for 5 million refugees. However, the Agency still faced two major challenges to its ability to provide basic humanitarian services: the prevalence of conflict and the scarcity of funds.
By 2020, he added, the population of Gaza would have grown by another half a million people, who would need to be fed, housed, educated and employed. More than half of them would be under the age of 18. They would face the prospect of having no fresh water. Unless the blockade was lifted and the economy restarted, Gaza would not be a liveable place by any standards. UNRWA would need to add 2,500 medical and teaching staff to its personnel. The task of rebuilding the Gaza Strip was made more difficult for UNRWA by Israel’s delays in approving projects and complex requirements. That had cost the Agency $5 million of donor money in 2011 alone.
Further, he said, the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory remained of primary concern, especially since last year, when Palestine refugees found themselves caught in the crisis in Syria, where they had traditionally enjoyed generous hospitality, complemented by access to UNRWA services, employment and enjoyment of basic rights. A significant number of Palestine refugees had been killed, injured and compelled to move from their homes. Expressing gratitude to those donors who had contributed to the Agency’s Regional Response Plan, he noted that funds from the Plan were used for various services, including direct cash payments, food and non-food assistance, and for developing alternative education modalities to support children and teachers unable to attend school. If the violence did not stop, ever greater numbers of Palestine refugees would require support.
Conditions for Palestine refugees in Lebanon also remained very difficult, he said. They had limited right to work and may not own property. Poverty was rife, living conditions in camps were squalid, and services that were beyond UNRWA’s ability, such as advanced health care, were out of reach for a majority of refugees. A priority was to finish the reconstruction of Nahr al-Barid camp, which had been totally destroyed in 2007, leaving 27,000 refugees homeless, but funding remained slow and inadequate. So far, UNRWA had money to rebuild half the camp and was also in discussions with the Government regarding easing restrictions on transporting building materials into camps and bringing into effect amendments to the labour law that would give Palestine refugees broad access to employment.
UNRWA was a large United Nations agency providing public services to an entire population across several countries, “in State-like fashion,” he said, but it was reliant on voluntary financing, which was unpredictable. That unique structural problem had created challenges to its sustainability over the decades, but the current juncture was particularly difficult. With a Palestine refugee population growing at 3.5 per cent a year and with a number of donors experiencing economic difficulties, funding shortfalls increasingly affected the Agency’s viability.
UNRWA’s services constituted the minimum necessary to satisfy the social and economic rights of refugees, he said, warning that reducing them was not only politically risky but also morally wrong. However, the range of large donors remained narrow. Paying strong tribute to the generosity of the European Union and some of its member States, United States, Norway, Switzerland, Australia and Japan, which together, accounted for 90 per cent of UNRWA’s funding, he stressed that the Agency’s General Fund, nevertheless, was in a perilous state. While overall contributions had remained static for almost five years, refugee needs had grown and costs had increased. It was vital and urgent to expand the donor base.
Further, in order to operate in a manner as cost-effective and efficient as possible, UNRWA, since 2006, had undergone far-reaching management reform efforts to achieve optimum effectiveness and was now re-aligning its field of operations, particularly in education and health, he noted. Also, strict austerity measures had been imposed — “support costs squeezed, activities postponed, payments to contractors delayed”. The current year’s core budget had been reduced by $25 million and the Agency was running essential services hand-to-mouth. It was also necessary to address the issue of staff salaries and find a balance between fiscal prudence and fair wages. Unless UNRWA secured $237 million by the end of the month, it would be unable to pay December salaries.
UNRWA — neither the cause nor the solution to the question of the refugees — was more necessary than ever, he stressed. Compounding the absence of the political solutions that would make UNRWA unnecessary, crises had multiplied in the past decades in the Middle East creating new and costly needs. Calling for a “quantum and sustained leap” in the international community’s collective commitment to the Agency, he asked all Member States, but particularly “those countries whose economic growth was matched by a more assertive political role”, specifically countries in Asia, Latin America and the Middle East, to step up to the important task of supporting UNRWA.
Palestine refugees might be a political question but they were first and foremost people — ordinary men and women who rightly insisted on not being discarded and forgotten as the “flotsam and jetsam” of history, he said. “Walking or tiptoeing away from UNRWA was simply not an option” for the international community.
The representative of the Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine thanked Mr. Grandi and all UNRWA staff and employees for their great work on behalf of over 5 million refugees. He also thanked him for the detailed and “very sombre” report, adding that the story of the Palestinian refugees was a “continuous tragedy” of people moving from one difficult situation to another. The situation in Syria, in particular, was adding to the tragedy, because, despite the Palestinian people’s efforts to avoid being influenced or affected by the Arab Spring events, they could not fully insulate themselves from it.
He said it was vital for those States that were able to donate to the Agency to do so. Funding shortfalls put pressure on UNRWA services, and in the eyes of the refugees, that sometimes appeared as if the Agency was not addressing their needs. He asked Mr. Grandi to elaborate on his rejection of the myth that UNRWA was perpetuating the refugee problem.
Responding to the question from the Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine, Mr. GRANDI said that UNRWA was not responsible for perpetuating the refugee question. The fact that the question was more than 60-years-old created its own problems, such as donor fatigue. The passage of time had made finding a solution more difficult, but only political will could break the vicious cycle. UNRWA was not directly involved in the political negotiations, but he felt entitled to bring attention to the conflict and call for an end to the protracted problem.
If UNRWA was to fold ahead of a political agreement, then inevitably, there would be tangible human consequences, he added. Half a million children would not go to school, which was serious enough. To have a vast, uneducated population was a big risk to stability. If UNRWA ceased to provide health services, a lot would be taken away from the little that the refugees had. To remove UNRWA was not to remove the problem. The problem had to be addressed from the other way around.
The representative of Lebanon commended the work of Mr. Grandi and his team. Lebanon supported Mr. Grandi’s call for additional funds, and stressed that UNRWA’s relevance was not under discussion. She noted that the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon were living in dire conditions, but that her Government had developed a new approach, despite its own financial challenges, to improve their quality of life. Reaffirming Lebanon’s continued support of UNRWA’s efforts, she asked Mr. Grandi to explain how it could help fundraising efforts around the world, including in Latin America and Asia.
Mr. GRANDI, responding, noted the “excellent cooperation” UNRWA enjoyed with Lebanon, especially since 2005, and that much progress had been made in improving the living conditions in the refugee camps.
He thanked the delegate from Lebanon for supporting UNRWA’s efforts to expand its donor base, and said that Lebanon was a “convincing voice” on the issue. In his recent travels to some regions of the world, he had ascertained that there was strong support, not only among Governments, but in terms of public opinion, and it was important to encourage some countries to step up their contributions and share the funding burden, which was mostly carried by a small number of donors. In difficult financial times, others with resources and influence were urgently needed, he added.
ANDREAS LOVOLD ( Norway), Rapporteur, Working Group on the Financing of UNRWA, introducing the Group’s report, underscored the seriousness of the Agency’s financial crisis, which he said was even worse than last year. With an expected deficit at year’s end — since the report had been finalized — the anticipated funding gap was $37.4 million, meaning that the Agency might not be able to fund the December payroll for its 31,000 staff across the Middle East. Nevertheless, despite its financial challenges, UNRWA had managed to continue reforming its health, relief and education programmes, and to implement the new accounting system, International Public Sector Accounting Standards. However, its working capital, which had been used in the past to compensate for shortfalls of income against expenditures, was now virtually exhausted.
He said that the Working Group renewed its appeal to donors to make additional efforts to fully fund the Agency’s core budget. The consequences of the structural financial crisis were many and dramatic, and not only undermined UNRWA’s services, but also increased hardships for staff and jeopardized the Agency’s ability to continue its management reform process, among other efforts.
The Working Group also expressed concern over the many challenges in its fields of operation, and called for a further opening up of Gaza, consistent with, among others, Security Council resolution 1860 (2009), he said. The Working Group believed that UNRWA played a vital role in preserving the stability and security of the region, and, therefore, was gravely concerned by the exceptionally large funding gap anticipated for the Agency’s General Fund, not only in 2012, but also for 2013. Therefore, the Working Group urged all Member States to contribute as much as possible to the Agency’s General Fund, to ensure support for emergency-related and special projects, and where possible, to put in place increased multi-year funding to allow UNRWA to better plan its activities.
FEDA ABDELHADY-NASSER, Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine , said that UNRWA exemplified the serious contribution that could be made by the United Nations in global affairs and the tangible difference in the lives of millions of people. The plight of the Palestine refugees was of the highest priority to the Palestinian leadership, as it continued to seek a peaceful settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and she called on the international community to live up to its responsibilities and obligations in accordance with the United Nations Charter, international law and all relevant United Nations resolutions in order to bring an end to the injustice.
She noted UNRWA’s many achievements, despite the serious challenges it faced on the ground, and financially. She expressed her concern that in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, the human rights of the Palestine refugees continued to be grossly violated and their socioeconomic conditions gravely affected by Israel’s illegal policies and measures, which also hampered UNRWA’s work. She regretted that Agency staff did not receive hazard pay.
While her delegation appreciated the Agency’s new resource mobilization strategy, particularly the efforts to expand and diversify the donor base, she reiterated the need for increased funding from the regular United Nations budget, and pointed out that recent austerity measures had had an adverse effect on both staff and refugees. Quoting UNRWA’s Commissioner-General, she said, “ Palestine refugees feel physically, politically and psychologically choked, and they are alarmed and angered by the difficulties encountered by UNRWA in trying to fulfil their basic needs or help them realize their aspirations.”
In closing, she reaffirmed her delegation’s deepest gratitude for the international community’s principled support for UNRWA’s noble mission, and reiterated her delegation’s appeal for greater efforts in support of the peaceful aspirations of the Palestinian people.
ESHAGH AL HABIB (Iran), speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, stated that UNRWA had been the leading force in the international community’s efforts to contribute to the betterment of the living conditions of the Palestinian people and to stability in the region. The Movement reaffirmed that UNRWA’s mandate and role were essential until the achievement of a just and lasting solution to the plight of the refugees. The question of Palestine refugees, with millions still in camps, was considered the longest case of “refugeehood” known to mankind. The Movement was gravely concerned about their situation, including in the camps in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and particularly in the Gaza Strip.
He said that the killing, injury, harassment and intimidation of the Agency’s staff members by the Israeli occupying forces, and the ongoing imposition of restrictions on the freedom of movement and access of the Agency’s staff, vehicles and goods were matters of deep concern to the Movement. Further, the illegal Israeli-imposed blockade, which had steadily tightened since June 2007, had had a disastrous impact on the humanitarian and economic conditions of the Palestinian people, including the Palestine refugees. He concluded by welcoming General Assembly resolution 65/272, which requested the Secretary-General to continue to support the institutional strengthening of the Agency through the provision of financial resources from the regular budget of the United Nations. He reiterated the Movement’s support for UNRWA’s unwavering efforts.
CARL HALLERGARD, representing the European Union delegation, expressed deep appreciation for UNRWA’s invaluable work, often performed in very difficult circumstances, in a region frequently daunted by conflict and unrest. Pointing out that the European Union and its member States remained UNRWA’s largest donor, he said that between 2000 and 2012, the Union had provided 1.4 billion euros to the Agency, and would do its utmost to help UNRWA close its financial gap for the year through an additional contribution to the General Fund. He urged new donors to commit financially to the Agency’s work, and encouraged the Agency to intensify efforts to mobilize regional, private and emerging donors.
He said that the reform process was of crucial importance, at the heart of which must be quality of services, affordability, efficiency and effectiveness. Staff costs constituted approximately 80 per cent of UNRWA’s total cost, and his delegation encouraged the Agency to closely monitor increases. The European Union’s aim was “more and better services for the money spent”, and it looked forward to UNRWA engaging with it on budget planning. The Union was determined to ensure that the essential humanitarian and development needs of the refugees were continually met until there was a just, fair and agreed solution to the refugee question, as part of a comprehensive future settlement of final status issues.
Mr. LISSOVOY ( Russian Federation) said that UNRWA had made many contributions, and it was important that its projects not be impeded. He especially commended the work being done in Syria, and expressed his great regret for the death of staff fulfilling their duty in that country, including the death of a teacher that had just been reported today. Over recent years, his country had provided the Palestinian Authority with grant aid, and it was also preparing to contribute additional resources next year. He also highlighted its ongoing support to Palestinians in the area of education, including grants to Palestinian students studying in Russia and in Palestine.
Through the World Food Programme, he said, Russian food aid was also being given to the Palestinian people. Another important area of cooperation was in the security sector. Each year, training programmes were organized for Palestinian security services. However, his Government had not yet obtained permission to transfer equipment, such as armed vehicles and automatic rifles, to the Palestinians, and those were currently in storage in Jordan.
He stressed the importance of stepping up international efforts to support the Palestinian people, but felt the whole range of humanitarian and economic problems they faced could only be resolved by achieving a just and lasting peace in the region, which required ending the occupation and establishing a viable Palestinian State. In that regard, he advocated a speedy renewal of negotiations, in accordance with the relevant Security Council resolutions, and on the basis of the Madrid principles, the Road Map, and the Arab Peace Initiative.
MANIEMAGEN GOVENDER (South Africa), associating with the statement made on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, stated that the renewal of UNRWA’s mandate by the General Assembly every three years was a reflection of the failure by the international community to settle the longstanding and legitimate claim of the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination. It was well known that UNRWA had been created as a subsidiary organ of the General Assembly and that its mandate went far beyond the provision of refugee services to peoples living under occupation. South Africa would welcome the earliest reintegration of Palestinian refugees from all the refugee camps, especially those in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, back into a contiguous Palestinian State, a process in which UNRWA could play a substantial role.
He said that the Agency had contributed, in no small measure, to developing sectors of the Palestinian refugee population over the last six decades, including through the provision of quality education to approximately half a million children, through its network of more than 700 elementary and preparatory schools. It was a matter of great concern that schools within UNRWA property had become targets of explosive ordnance and airstrikes. Lauding UNRWA’s resolve to restore dignity to an oppressed people, even in the face of bureaucracy and international law violations, he pledged South Africa’s continued strong support for the Agency, having once again committed its annual financial contribution.
MOHAMMAD AL-ATTIYAH ( Qatar) praised the work of UNRWA, especially its educational programme, which, apart from providing basic and technical education to thousands of young Palestinian children, also helped them maintain their cultural identity. It was unfortunate that the Agency’s efforts might go in vain, however, if the Israeli authorities continued to tighten the economic blockade, especially in the Gaza Strip, which was on the brink of economic collapse. He called on the international community to compel the Israeli Government to refrain from any military attacks against unarmed Palestinian civilians, and said that allegations by some Israeli media outlets that Hamas had used UNRWA facilities during the Israeli aggression on Gaza in 2008 were false and intended only to undermine the Agency’s reputation.
He expressed his concern over the rising number of Palestinian refugees registered with UNRWA and the lack of funding to meet their needs. He was also concerned about the Agency’s decision to lay off 130 employees in the West Bank and to reduce services there, which clearly demonstrated its financial deficit. He called on the international community to provide the Agency with the necessary financial support to continue its vital role in providing Palestine refugees with the minimum necessary to lead a dignified and productive life. It was not conceivable, he added, to find a just solution to the Palestinian issue without taking into account the Palestinian people’s legitimate demands to establish an independent, viable Palestinian State with East Jerusalem as its capital, and to fulfil the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes.
MOHAMMED AL RADAIDEH ( Jordan) stated that his country was not merely an advocate but a direct and immediate stakeholder in the Palestine question. Hosting the majority of the Palestinian refugees, Jordan stood firm on their right of return and to compensation. His Government provided refugees with a wide range of services including health care, education and social welfare. Today, in addition to hosting the Palestinian refugees, Jordan was now host to more than 215,000 Syrian refugees, who had fled to Jordan seeking security and stability.
He said that the population increase of nearly a quarter million to a small country of approximately 6 million people placed a cumbersome burden on Jordan’s resources, particularly with respect to water, energy, health and education. Despite such pressures, Jordan had opted to keep its doors open to its brethren in need. The role that UNRWA played in Jordan relieved some of the pressures on the Jordanian Government, he said, and called on the international community to support UNRWA’s operations until the final resolution of the refugee question.
DAMIAN WHITE ( Australia) commended the work of UNRWA, whose assistance helped to lay the foundations for improved security and stability in the region, and whose focus on education and health was an investment in the human capital that was essential for building a successful Palestinian State. A recent visit by the Commissioner-General to Australia in May had underscored the long-term cooperation between the country and the Agency, which would continue, including with the disbursement of “un-earmarked” contributions to the General Fund. That should give the Agency greater flexibility in implementing priority activities.
He said his country recognized the Agency’s acute financial problems. He welcomed the progress that had been made in achieving greater efficiency in the delivery of services. To address the shortfalls, he called on regional donors, among others, to support UNRWA’s core budget. As budgetary circumstances were likely to remain tight, he encouraged the Agency to continue to direct its resources to where they were needed most. Australia shared the world’s frustration at the standstill in the Middle East peace process, and recognized both the legitimate desires of Palestinians for statehood. It also recognized Israel’s legitimate security concerns, which would be best guaranteed through an effective and genuine two-State solution. To that end, he encouraged an early resumption of direct negotiations.
HASAN SH J Y A ABULHASAN ( Kuwait) stated that the services provided by UNRWA to Palestinian refugees in the Occupied Territory and host countries were commendable. Since it was established, the Agency had spared no efforts, however, the continued destruction by the Israeli occupying forces and the killings of unarmed people made matters more complex. The forces of occupation had prevented any good from entering Gaza for a period exceeding five years, and the continued deficit in financing under those conditions of siege had made it difficult for UNRWA to perform its duties.
In that light, he reiterated Kuwait’s full commitment to UNRWA, noting it had increased its annual contribution from $1.5 million to $2 million. Expressing concern regarding the Agency’s financial crisis, he said that any reduction in its funding would affect peace in the region. He reiterated the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their home country and live in peace, and affirmed Kuwait’s support for UNRWA’s continued efforts until the question was settled.
YESSIKA COMESAÑA PERDOMO ( Cuba) said that UNRWA had undertaken extraordinary work to relieve the living conditions of Palestinians, but there was no justification that Palestinians should continue to languish under the Israeli occupation that persisted in depriving them of their human rights. She was very concerned by the deterioration of the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and that several of Israel’s illegal practices — such as the building of the separation wall and of settlements — continued in flagrant violation of international law. The humanitarian situation was alarming, particularly in the Gaza Strip, where Israel restricted the movement of goods and people, preventing vital activities such as the rebuilding of schools. Israel must curb its policy of imposing blockades, which was causing serious economic damage, she said.
She said that UNRWA was obliged to carry out its work in extremely difficult conditions, undermining its capacity to fulfil its mandate and leading to substantial financial loss. Losses incurred as a consequence of transit delays and restricted access must be reimbursed. The international community must address the Agency’s alarming financial situation. In conclusion, she reaffirmed her delegation’s firm support for the struggle of the Palestinian people to express their right to self-determination and to establish an independent Palestinian State with East Jerusalem as its capital.
ARLINE DIAZ MENDOZA ( Venezuela), associating with the Non-Aligned Movement, said that UNRWA’s work was a reminder of the tragedy of the Palestinians. While its work was commendable, the international community must also remember that what was crucial was a just and enduring solution to the conflict, which guaranteed the rights of Palestinians to return to their land. Condemning the blockade in Gaza, she said that UNRWA’s work faced a permanent impediment by the barriers on imports. In the West Bank, the policy of building illegal settlements, the expulsion of Arab inhabitants, the road blocks and housing demolitions continued to impinge on the rights of Palestinians and thwart the work of the Agency.
She called on Israel to lift all restrictions on free movement of Agency personnel. Recognizing the considerable assistance provided by host countries, she added that Venezuela was deeply concerned about the financial challenges facing the Agency, which was the principal supplier of services to the Palestinian refugees. It was crucial for the international community to enable its work.
STÉPHANE LAURENT REY ( Switzerland) expressed appreciation for UNRWA’s reform efforts, which were beginning to bear fruit. The regional context in which the Agency operated remained extremely volatile, and the Agency’s stabilising effect should not be underestimated. In light of the socioeconomic crisis, not to mention the absence of progress in the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it was essential to pursue ambitious measures to combat the extreme poverty among Palestinian refugees and to provide prospects for young people in terms of education and employment. Switzerland attached particular importance to the development of vocational training programmes throughout the region. It also remained concerned about the systematic violations of international humanitarian law in the West Bank and Gaza.
Now more than ever, he said, UNRWA required adequate funds to fulfil its mandate. Switzerland had increased its contribution by 10 per cent, committed itself to biannual financing, and mobilized additional resources to meet the most urgent needs of the Palestinian refugees affected by the situation in Syria. Switzerland urged others to follow suit, and expected the United Nations system to support UNRWA in a more systematic manner. Furthermore, Switzerland expected the Agency’s Advisory Commission and its subcommittee to demonstrate a resolve and consequent engagement that matched the Agency’s challenges. He reaffirmed his country’s willingness to act as a facilitator in a constructive dialogue between the Agency, its donors, and the representatives of the refugee host countries.
GEIR O. PEDERSEN ( Norway) stated that the political upheaval in the Arab region was creating challenges for UNRWA’s modus operandi, while the global economic crisis was affecting both donors and host countries. Norway appreciated UNRWA’s invaluable assistance to improve the lives of Palestine refugees across the region, including Syria. “Every UNRWA staff should be saluted.” He welcomed efforts to reform the Agency, including in terms of its programmes as well as reduction of administrative costs, and added that it had used its resources effectively, with improvements in financial management and transparency.
He said that the shortage of UNRWA’s regular budget had become a recurrent problem, requiring a structural change in terms of how the Agency was funded. Norway encouraged UNRWA to strengthen its capacity to target the most vulnerable refugees to ensure that the financial shortfall would not harm the ones that needed its services the most. UNRWA must strengthen its ability to allocate resources to programme sectors according to needs. Finally, it was also necessary to look for synergies with other United Nations agencies and humanitarian and development actors, in order to avoid parallel systems of service provision. He underlined the important role of UNRWA, as a significant contributor in making Palestine ready for statehood.
ARCHBISHOP FRANCIS ASSISI CHULLIKATT, Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See, stated that various transnational agencies under the Holy See’s auspices, such as the Pontifical Mission for Palestine, were working alongside UNRWA in the refugee host countries. The concerns of the Commissioner-General were the Holy See’s concerns as well. The needs of the refugees grew as resources became more limited, and the uncertain future of the refugees sowed seeds of possible radicalization for the young. For education to promote hope for the future, peace must return to the region.
He hoped that the problems caused by the many conflicts of the region would finally be resolved by negotiation and dialogue, and stressed that a lasting solution must include the status of the holy city of Jerusalem. His delegation supported “internationally guaranteed provisions to ensure the freedom of religion and of conscience of its inhabitants, as well as permanent, free, and unhindered access to the Holy Places by the faithful of all religions and nationalities”.
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