A total of 23 donors today announced contributions, or their intention to contribute, to the 2019 budget of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) after two young Palestinian students told the General Assembly Ad Hoc Committee how critical funding was making a deep, lasting and positive impact on the lives of millions of children like them.
The voluntary contributions were made during a meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee, established by the General Assembly as the primary forum for announcing financial support. UNRWA has been providing health, education, relief and social services, as well as emergency humanitarian assistance, across its five fields of operation — Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank and the Gaza Strip — since 1950. The Agency currently serves 5.4 million Palestinian refugees — 20 per cent of the world’s refugees.
Hanan Abu Asabah, President of the UNRWA Student Parliament, said she that she studies more than just math, science and language at school. The students at the UNRWA school learn about human rights and democracy. “Yes, I have lived a life of suffering, I hear the sound of explosions and bullets,” she recalled. On her way to school, stops at checkpoints and humiliations are ordinary. But, the UNRWA school gives her hope, she said, expressing concern that the schools risked closure in 2018. “We hope our schools will open on time this year, too,” she said. For Palestine refugee children, education is the most important thing they have.
Hatem Hamdouna, President of the Gaza Student Parliament, said that he is just a child and he knows nothing about politics. “I did not choose to live through war and blockade,” he said, adding: “The scenes of war and destruction still haunt me.” UNRWA schools give kids a sense of normality. Gaza is much more than war. Children there do not want to be seen as victims. “I chose to study hard and become a young leader,” he said, emphasizing that an UNRWA education taught him about his rights and how to practice them. “UNRWA education is just like oxygen; it keeps us alive.”
Secretary-General António Guterres, acknowledging Ms. Abu Sabeh and Mr. Hamdouna’s efforts and achievements, stressed: “They are the future and they deserve our support.” Emphasizing that it is tragic that a political solution has not been reached, he urged parties to work towards peace and the establishment of two States. Meanwhile, millions of children have benefited from an UNRWA education and the Agency has provided fundamental services for millions more. However, a current funding shortfall will only grow unless Member States act soon. While Agency reforms have reduced costs by $500 million, widened its donor base and have continued to seek solid and predictable financial resources, Member States still provide the bulk of funding. Given what is at stake at the human, political and security levels, he called on Member States to act today.
María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés (Ecuador), General Assembly President, applauding the work of Ms. Abu Sabeh and Mr. Hamdouna, described the challenge ahead, highlighting the serious funding shortfall — $211 million — at a time when the Agency continues to serve millions. She asked Member States to consider the consequences of the Agency ceasing its work, from effect on the boys and girls attending schools to ramifications for the wider region. “This is not a matter of charity,” she said. “It is about responsibility, about upholding human dignity and human rights,” and honouring commitments made in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to leave no one behind.
Pierre Krähenbühl, UNRWA Commissioner-General, said the current situation in the Middle East has escalated needs, with the depth of psychosocial trauma reaching epidemic proportions in Gaza, while home demolitions and forced evictions continue alongside a lack of freedom of movement in the West Bank. “We must persevere,” he said, calling on all Member States to sustain the positive dynamic created in 2018 to overcome the unprecedented $446 million deficit. “If every donor could maintain its level of contribution of last year, we could cover our financial needs.”
The following delegations confirmed 2019 pledges in the following amounts: European Union (€21 million); Turkey ($10 million); Philippines ($10,000); India ($5 million); Sweden ($5 million); France (€20 million); Germany (€29 million); New Zealand ($1 million); Belgium (€11.6 million total for 2019); Estonia (€280,000); Ireland ($22 million); Norway ($2 million in addition to $26.4 million already paid); Indonesia ($200,000 in addition to the $1 million already paid); United Kingdom ($24 million for a total of $83 million for 2019‑2020); Switzerland ($1 million to the $21 million already paid in 2019); Kazakhstan ($50,000); Pakistan ($250,000); Cyprus (€100,000) and the Holy See ($40,000).
The following delegations indicated pledges pending approval: Austria (€1.95 million to a UNRWA health programme), Mexico, Malaysia and Italy.
The following delegations also drew attention to the contributions and commitments they had already made in multi-year pledges and arrangements with UNRWA: Canada (Can$110 million for 2016-2019); Iceland ($1 million over four years); Japan ($32 million this year so far); Finland (€20 million over four years); Australia ($A80 million for 2016‑2020); Qatar ($16 million for 2019-2020) and the Russian Federation ($10 million for 2017-2021).
Further support for UNRWA was expressed by representatives of Jordan, Lebanon, Republic of Korea, Egypt, Algeria, China, Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Tunisia and Iraq with no specific pledges announced.
Following those interventions, the Deputy Permanent Observer for the State of Palestine expressed gratitude to UNRWA’s national and international staff. “It is their daily work — at times at risk to their own lives — that ensures the delivery of the Agency’s core services,” she said. That UNRWA was able to remedy its shortfall in 2018 is a testament to what can be realized when commitment is upheld. Absent a just solution, even the slightest speculation of UNRWA’s work is extremely concerning. She commended the international community and its commitment to the multilateral system to solving the most pressing problems. She rejected claims that Palestinians are an “aid community living in camps”. They had been steadfast and contributed to their communities.
Mr. Krähenbühl then made a closing statement and thanked delegations for their pledges.