Palestine Refugee Agency Tackling Management Issues, Continues to Deliver Vital Services amid Misconduct Probe, Officer in Charge Tells Fourth Committee

GA/SPD/710
11 November 2019
Seventy-fourth Session, 21st & 22nd Meetings (AM & PM)

Palestine Refugee Agency Tackling Management Issues, Continues to Deliver Vital Services amid Misconduct Probe, Officer in Charge Tells Fourth Committee

Delegates Stress Need to Fund Vital Services as Israel Urges End to Mandate of ‘Corrupted and Ineffective’ Entity

Amidst an investigation of misconduct allegations, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) is working to address management issues and continues to provide vital services despite facing a funding crisis, its Officer in Charge told the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) today.

As the Committee began its consideration of the Agency’s work, Christian Saunders said that under the present circumstances, with the unexpected departure of UNRWA’s senior leadership, its priorities are ensuring the continuity of operations and providing strong leadership with a focus on essential reforms.  The events leading to the rapid leadership transition prompted an internal review and to the development of a range of management initiatives, he added.

He went on to state that the complex investigation by the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) began in 2018 and required the review of 1.2 million emails.  It is now drawing to a close and Member States have been briefed on the information available, he noted, adding that once the investigation is completed, the findings will be made available.  The Agency has been reviewing ways in which to be more effective and efficient, he said, noting that it already stretches donor funding as far as possible.  The financial situation is even more critical than it was in 2018, with a funding gap of $89 million — $25 million larger than during the fourth quarter of that year, he noted.  Outlining developments in the field, he said Palestine refugees displaced from Syria and living in Lebanon face extremely difficult conditions and are actively exploring ways to leave.  Some are demanding deregistration from UNRWA in the belief that it would offer access to resettlement opportunities available to other refugees displaced from Syria, he added.

The observer for the State of Palestine pointed out that the OIOS investigation found no fraud, corruption or misuse of funds.  The alleged misconduct did not impair UNRWA’s operations, and the management plan announced by the Secretary‑General to address oversights in accountability also ensure continuity, she added.  Emphasizing that diminished support will only weaken the faith of Palestine refugees in the international community’s resolve in the quest for a just solution, she declared:  “That faith has been at the core of their resilience and what has thus far prevented complete spillover of this protracted crisis beyond the region.”  She went on to warn that their resilience is becoming more strained amid the deteriorating socioeconomic conditions, rampant poverty, violent conflict, repeated displacement and widespread instability.

Israel’s representative, however, said that supporting the Agency is a misuse of international funds.  UNRWA is “corrupted and ineffective” and the recent scandal is just the tip of the iceberg, she added.  Questioning whether corruption is limited to the Agency’s leadership or if, in fact, it has sullied UNRWA’s broader activities, she called for a close examination of its activities to determine how it spends funds.  Describing the Agency as one of the largest employers in the Palestinian Authority, she said it therefore has an interest in perpetuating the problem, whereas Israel hopes to reach a political solution.  She called for an end to UNRWA’s mandate, the gradual reorganization of its humanitarian services and for better channels to finance humanitarian aid “without financing politics and corruption”.

Jordan’s representative warned that depriving Palestine refugees of dignity will have dire consequences throughout the region, warning that the loss of UNRWA’s services will further deepen their despair and leave them vulnerable to ignorance and extremist ideologies.

Syria’s representative also rejected any proposed decrease in UNRWA’s social services, emphasizing that any such reduction would be tantamount to a violation of United Nations resolutions.

Lebanon’s representative similarly warned of the consequences that might unfold if the Agency’s support is withdrawn, stressing that any deficiency in education means a death sentence for generations to come.

Egypt’s representative observed that some countries remain indifferent to the sacrifices UNRWA has made, questioning the Agency’s credibility and calling for its closure.  Since the preliminary investigative report reveals no misuse or abuse of funds, Member States should extend UNRWA’s mandate and resume aid as soon as possible, he stressed.

Also speaking today were representatives of Azerbaijan (for the Non-Aligned Movement), Thailand, Saudi Arabia, Japan, Qatar, Kuwait, South Africa, United Arab Emirates, Maldives, Namibia, Cuba, Syria, Nigeria, Tunisia, Sri Lanka, India, Turkey, China, Senegal, Iraq, Norway, Indonesia, Equatorial Guinea, Pakistan, Malaysia, Luxembourg, Russian Federation, Mexico, Bangladesh, Ecuador, Sudan and Algeria.

Observers for the European Union, the Holy See and the League of Arab States also delivered statements.

Speaking in exercise of the right of reply were a representative of Israel and an observer for the State of Palestine.

The Fourth Committee will reconvene at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, 13 November, to begin its general debate on Israeli practices affecting the human rights of the Palestinian people and other Arabs of the occupied territories.

Opening Remarks

MOHAMMED HUSSEIN BAHR ALULOOM (Iraq), Chair of the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization), said the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) is mandated by the General Assembly to assist more than 5.4 million Palestine refugees.  Explaining that the Agency undertook exceptional internal efforts to control costs in the face of an extraordinary financial crisis over the past two years, he applauded the broad range of Member States that have stepped up to increase their contributions and preserve UNRWA’s vital services.  However, the financial situation remains precarious, he emphasized, pointing out that the Agency continues to provide core services and humanitarian and development programmes amid the conflict in Syria, repeated surges in violence and the ongoing blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Briefing

CHRISTIAN SAUNDERS, Officer in Charge, United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, said that under the present circumstances, with the unexpected departure of the Agency’s senior leadership, the priorities are ensuring the continuity of operations and providing strong leadership with a focus on essential reforms.  The circumstances are exacerbated by the worst cash-flow situation in UNRWA’s 70-year history, he added.  The events leading to the rapid leadership transition prompted an internal review and the development of a range of management initiatives, he said, welcoming the Agency’s “remarkable” resilience.  Meanwhile, UNRWA has regained focus on implementing its mandate, including through efforts to revitalize interactions between the Agency and its Advisory Commission, he said.

UNRWA is also redelegating authority and accountability to field and headquarters directors after years of financial crisis led, perhaps, to over-centralization, he continued.  The Agency is reviewing the management of human resources with a view to simplifying and streamlining it, he noted.  As for the financial situation, he emphasized that it is even more critical than it was in 2018, with a funding gap of $89 million — $25 million larger than during the fourth quarter of that year.  Some partners who pledged funds this year have yet to transfer them and others have conditioned pledges and transfers on actions to be taken by UNRWA and United Nations Headquarters to address the widely reported management issues, he said.  A rupture in services would affect the most vulnerable beneficiaries, including more than 1.5 million refugees receiving basic emergency assistance, principally food, he cautioned.

He went on to stress that one internal priority is to establish constructive dialogue with UNRWA’s staff unions, representing 30,000 staff in five fields and headquarters in Amman and Gaza City.  Concerning developments in the field, he reported that the situation in Gaza remains dire, with almost the entire registered refugee population reliant on UNRWA for basic needs, in particular food aid.  Regarding public statements by the East Jerusalem municipality about closing the Agency’s facilities there, he said UNRWA is monitoring the situation and engaging with Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the matter.  In Syria, UNRWA continues to restore services in camps where security conditions permit, but its Emergency Appeal for Syria has not received the resources needed, requiring that the Agency adjust the targeting of aid only to the most vulnerable.  Emphasizing that the community of Palestine refugees from Syria inside Lebanon live in extremely difficult conditions, he said they are actively exploring ways to leave, with some demanding deregistration from UNRWA in the belief that it would offer access to resettlement opportunities available to other refugees from Syria.

Interactive Dialogue

The representative of Israel expressed concern about the corruption that has affected UNRWA, citing the interim findings by the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) as well as the resignation of Pierre Krähenbühl, the Commissioner-General.  Much must change, she emphasized, recalling that for years her delegation has protested the Agency’s activities, including that it works to inflate the number of Palestine refugees.  The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) works to mitigate their number by resettling them, but UNRWA counts as refugees even people who have become full citizens of other countries, she noted.  Expressing concern about the Agency’s use of humanitarian funding for advocacy and to provide a one-sided view of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, she warned that its budgetary needs will continue to grow exponentially, reiterating that there are discrepancies in the number of refugees.  She asked how many people in Lebanon are actually Palestine refugees, whether the number used is inflated to satisfy the Palestinian agenda and why 2 million beneficiaries remain on UNRWA’s books when they are citizens of other countries.

An observer for the State of Palestine emphasized that politicization of the Agency’s mandate cannot be accepted.  Since its establishment, UNRWA has played a pivotal role in providing essential assistance to Palestine refugees, and as such it is “impossible to accept the distorted, malicious narratives targeting the Agency and those who serve in it, all aimed at abrogating the refugees’ rights,” she said.  Israel’s attempts to replace UNRWA’s education and health services in Occupied East Jerusalem are not benign, she said, adding that they constitute a flagrant attempt to unlawfully impose sovereignty and exploit a vulnerable population.  She went on to seek elaboration of Israel’s obligations under international treaties, of the relevant resolutions on the status of Jerusalem and of its obligations as an occupying Power.  She also asked about the implications for UNRWA and the refugees it serves in the city.

Mr. SAUNDERS said the complex OIOS investigation began in 2018 and required the review of 1.2 million emails, adding that it is now drawing to a close and Member States have been briefed on the information available.  Once the investigation is completed, the findings will be made available.  The Agency has been reviewing ways in which to be more effective and efficient, he said, noting that it already stretches donor funding as far as possible.  Further reforms will be implemented in the areas of governance, management and programmes, he said, adding that the OIOS will decide whether its reports will be released to Member States.

He went on to emphasize that UNRWA spends its funds solely on development activities, adding that it intends to increase transparency and to post its budget and expenditure information in the public domain.  Moreover, UNRWA does more in terms of enforcement and training on neutrality than any other United Nations entity, sharing guidelines with all staff members and conducting inspections of facilities, he noted.  Breaches of policy and guidelines are investigated thoroughly and if people are found to have transgressed, they can be dismissed, he observed.  On East Jerusalem, he said the municipality has made clear to UNRWA that it would like to assume responsibility for providing services to the Palestine refugees there, adding that the Agency is undertaking dialogue with Israel in that regard.

The observer for the State of Palestine, citing Israel’s claim that UNRWA inflates the number of refugees, pointed out that the Agency does not register refugees descended through the female line, and their numbers are actually underestimated.

Mr. SAUNDERS confirmed that the statement about female-line descendants not being counted is correct.

The representative of Israel asked whether refuges who are resettled and become citizens of another country remain on UNRWA’s books.

Mr. SAUNDERS explained that the Agency’s mandate is to provide relief pending a just and lasting solution to the conflict, and as such, it is for the General Assembly to decide who receives its services.  The matter of eligibility is subject to international law and exceeds UNRWA’s mandate, he pointed out.

The representative of the United States, expressing concern about the allegations leading up to the OIOS inquiry, called upon the Secretary-General to make its results available.  She also asked about plans to install new leadership at the Agency and how UNRWA plans to address management issues moving forward.

Mr. SAUNDERS said the inquiry is able to say there was no misappropriation or misuse of donor funding and, as such, it the investigation involves management issues.  The Secretariat and UNRWA will act decisively in instances of misconduct, he said, emphasizing that the Agency shares many of the controls and regulations that the United Nations Secretariat and other entities have in place and has a strong regulatory framework.  “There is no culture of impunity,” he stressed.  The Agency has a relatively light governance structure that allows it to be operational and agile, he said, while underlining that it can be strengthened by increasing its reporting to the Advisory Commission and improved by increasing dialogue on specific issues. Increased reporting will promote greater transparency and strengthen oversight within UNRWA, he said.

Introduction of Report

RAFEA ARIF (Norway), Rapporteur of the Working Group on the Financing of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, introduced that panel’s report (document A/74/337), adopted on 22 August, noting that it is significantly streamlined and seeks to focus on the Agency’s financial situation.  Despite UNRWA’s efforts to improve cost-effectiveness and the contributions from many donors, its programme budget shortfall for 2019 stands at $89 million, she said, urging all Governments to increase and sustain their voluntary contributions and to contribute to the Agency’s three funding portals, as described in the report.  The Working Group also urges Governments to provide unearmarked multi-year funding where possible, as well as contributions in accordance with recommendations from the World Humanitarian Summit, she added.

General Debate

FEDA ABDELHADY-NASSER, observer for the State of Palestine, said Israeli officials have attempted to nullify the status and rights of Palestine refugees and to discredit UNRWA, defaming those who seek to defend refugee rights.  Describing Israel’s allegations as part of age-old attempts to distract discussion from the fundamental issues, she rejected the claims as libellous, emphasizing that no unilateral decision by any country can terminate the Agency’s mandate.  Noting that the OIOS investigation found no fraud, corruption or misuse of funds, she pointed out that the alleged misconduct did not impair UNRWA’s operations.  The management plan announced by the Secretary-General to address weaknesses in oversight and accountability, and his appointment of an Officer-in-Charge, also ensure continuity, she added.

While the Agency addresses administrative issues, attention must be refocused on renewing its mandate and securing more sustained, predictable and sufficient funding so that it can meet the needs of refugees, she stressed, appealing urgently for continued generosity, the fulfilment of pledges, the resumption of suspended assistance as well as more support.  Underlining the vital need for funding to ensure UNRWA’s financial health in 2020, she said Palestine refugees remain in need of assistance and reassurance that the world is not abandoning them.  Their fears must not be ignored, she cautioned, noting that diminished support will only weaken their faith in the international community’s resolve in relation to the quest for a just solution.

“That faith has been at the core of their resilience and what has thus far prevented complete spillover of this protracted crisis beyond the region,” she continued, warning that their resilience is becoming more strained amid the deteriorating socioeconomic conditions, rampant poverty, violent conflict, repeated displacement and widespread instability.  In Jordan and Lebanon, Palestine refugees continue to struggle with limited opportunities in the context of broader economic difficulties and the marginalization of refugees.  In Syria, the conflict has profoundly affected Palestine refugees, she observed, also noting that their situation in the West Bank continues to be marked by violence and dispossession.  East Jerusalem is becoming more untenable as Israel, the occupying Power, attempts to further entrench its de facto annexation of the city, she noted.

No doubt emboldened by recent events, Israel is escalating pressure against UNRWA operations in that city and is even threatening to bring an end to the Agency’s services, she continued.  Conditions for refugees are particularly acute in the Gaza Strip, where the dire humanitarian situation caused by Israel’s aggression and its illegal 12-year-long blockade constitute the root cause of the aid dependency afflicting 80 per cent of the enclave’s population, she added.  The fragile and depleted health system is near collapse under the weight of the staggering number of casualties caused by Israel’s brutality against civilian demonstrators in the ongoing Great March of Return, she observed, pointing out that among those killed during the reporting period, 13 were students in UNRWA schools.  Through its education, health care, vocational training and other programmes, “UNRWA has remained the salve to this despair, alleviating suffering, helping foster resilience and offering hope,” she emphasized.

NAHIDA BAGHIROVA (Azerbaijan), associating herself with the Non-Aligned Movement, stressed the vital importance of UNRWA’s humanitarian mission.  Regarding the recent investigation into allegations of misconduct by UNRWA senior staff, she noted that no fraud or corruption was found and reiterated support for the Agency, which provides humanitarian assistance and protection for more than 5 million Palestine refugees.  Stressing that UNRWA’s mandate and operations in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the Occupied Palestinian Territory remain essential, she reaffirmed the urgency of supporting the Agency and expressed regret over the exacerbation of its funding crisis following the punitive decision by the United States to end its support.  Similarly, she expressed concern over Israel’s provocative announcement to terminate UNRWA service provision in Occupied East Jerusalem.  Expressing grave concern over Israel’s ongoing illegal practices in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, she described the unprecedented increase in forced displacement and violence by settlers.  She urged States to increase their contributions to UNRWA and called for the full lifting of the illegal Gaza blockade.

ANDREA PONTIROLI, European Union delegation, noting that the Palestine refugee issue is an internationally agreed parameter for the solution of the conflict, stressed that UNRWA must be able to continue to provide that community necessary protection and essential services.  The Agency makes a key contribution to the viability of the two-State solution; it acts as a stabilizing force in the region by providing vital health and education services.  The European Union is collectively the largest contributor to the Agency’s budget, he pointed out, reiterating support for UNRWA and commending its ongoing efforts to carry out efficiency gains for its initiatives aimed at strengthening the management and efficiency of the Agency.  His bloc will continue to answer UNRWA’s call for additional funds, he said, expressing support for a three-year renewal of its mandate.

MOHANNAD ADNAN MOUSA SHADDAD (Jordan) said that, as host of 42 per cent of the Palestine refugee population, his country considers the issue a priority that remains a major concern for the entire Arab world.  Noting that Jordan has always promoted support for UNRWA internationally, he said the Agency contributes to stability in the region and should therefore not be negatively affected by political issues.  Depriving Palestine refugees of dignity will have dire consequences throughout the region, he pointed out, warning also that the loss of UNRWA’s services will further deepen their despair and leave them vulnerable to ignorance and extremist ideologies.  During the 70 years since its creation, he recalled, UNRWA has transformed desperation into hope and work in the service of humanity, emphasizing that any attempt to undermine the Agency in the absence of prospects for a political solution will be a threat to security and stability.  In spite of UNRWA’s challenges, the international community should continue to provide financial and political support, he said, noting that, due to its lack of resources, the Agency has only difficult options from which to choose — it must either pay 30,000 workers, close its schools or stop providing health care for millions of refugees if it is unable to close the funding gap, adding that extending UNRWA’s mandate would demonstrate that the international community continues to support Palestine refugees.

VITAVAS SRIVIHOK (Thailand), commending UNRWA’s work, encouraged it to continue to explore diversifying its donor base and other means to ensure sustainable financing.  Calling for additional contributions to the Agency, he drew attention to Thailand’s “modest but regular” support since 1978.  He also welcomed UNRWA’s ongoing reforms, recognizing that enhanced effectiveness is vital to addressing the financial situation and delivering on the mandate.  Expressing concern over the humanitarian situation of Palestine refugees, he noted Thailand’s cooperation in providing training for them on socioeconomic issues and following their development progress at international forums.  He reaffirmed solidarity with the Palestinian people, expressing support for a mutually agreed solution to the Middle East conflict.

ABDALLAH Y. AL-MOUALLIMI (Saudi Arabia) said that more than 5.5 million Palestine refugees live in camps, deprived of a livelihood and basic rights, and under growing duress due to the deteriorating situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem.  This is a result of Israel’s illegal occupation and its violations of United Nations resolutions and instruments.  Saudi Arabia is among the top supporters of Palestine refugees on all fronts, and among the biggest donors to UNRWA, having provided more than $900 million to UNRWA between 2000 and 2019, and pledged $50 million in 2019.  He expressed support for renewal of the Agency’s mandate, calling on Member States to reject any attempts to defame it.  The crisis of Palestine refugees is not a humanitarian situation as much as a political one, he noted, pointing out that it can only be addressed once Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory has ended.  People must be able to return to their homeland, he said, emphasizing that this is an inalienable right that is not time-barred.

HIROYUKI NAMAZU (Japan) expressed concern about recent allegations of misconduct against UNRWA’s management and urged the Agency and the United Nations to take the necessary measures in a transparent manner.  Despite current difficulties, the Agency plays a crucial role in humanitarian efforts and stability in the region.  As it has been confirmed that fraud or misappropriation of operational funds is excluded, Japan will continue to support UNRWA through multidimensional contributions, having already disbursed more than $32 million in 2019.  Aiming to expand the Agency’s donor base, Japan initiated the Conference on Cooperation among East Asian Countries for Palestinian Development in 2013.  UNRWA has made some laudable achievements to improve efficiency and reduce costs, while ensuring transparency and accountability, he said, calling on the Agency to continue with management reforms to ensure its sustainable operation.

SHAMMA ALMURAIKHI (Qatar) said the Agency’s services ensure that 5 million people enjoy their basic human rights, stressing that it is necessary to provide sustainable funding so UNRWA can carry out its mandate.  Referring to a report on the Agency released by multilateral organizations in June, she said the findings indicate that UNRWA is able and effective.  Qatar has increased its contribution to UNRWA by $8 million, yearly, and provides an additional $50 million in assistance to the Agency, enabling it to open schools without delay.  Qatar also provides support to the refugee community through the Qatar Development Fund, she reported, with contributions exceeding $1 billion.

AHMED AL-DAWEESH (Kuwait) called on Member States to extend UNRWA’s mandate for three additional years.  Despite the current deficit of more than $400,000, he said the Agency has made remarkable achievements that should encourage the international community to continue to support its services.  Recalling that a third generation of Palestine refugees is currently suffering, due to restricted movement, underemployment and lack of access to basic services, he urged the international community to help improve their lives, and called on Israel in particular to comply with international law and to lift the blockade on Gaza.  Kuwait has contributed $5 million to the Agency in 2019, he added.

XOLISA MFUNDISO MABHONGO (South Africa) said that despite extremely trying circumstances, UNRWA continues to provide assistance to Palestine refugees, for whom it remains an invaluable lifeline.  UNRWA provides critical humanitarian and development assistance to 5 million refugees in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, and in the absence of a political solution that addresses their plight, “the international community remains morally obliged to uphold its stated commitment to Palestine refugees,” she stated.  Outlining aid provided by the Agency over the past year — including educating 500,000 children, providing primary health care to 9.1 million and rehabilitating or constructing 36,000 shelters — she expressed concern about the Agency’s $200 million budget shortfall.  Stressing that the “regrettable decision by the United States” to halt funding is threatening the lives of vulnerable people and undermining progress, she urged the United States to honour its commitments and provide financial support to UNRWA.  South Africa will continue to support Palestinians through the Agency and through the India, Brazil and South Africa Facility Fund for Poverty and Hunger Alleviation, which carries out vocational training in Nablus and hospital rehabilitation in Gaza to ensure that health services reach people in need.

SAUD HAMAD GHANEM HAMAD ALSHAMSI (United Arab Emirates) said his delegation is a firm supporter of UNRWA and stands in solidarity with Palestinians.  The international community has redoubled its efforts to provide basic services to the Palestinian people and, as such, the United Arab Emirates continues to support the Agency at the same level.  During the 2018-2019 crisis period, the United Arab Emirates provided $5 million in addition to its annual contribution, he reported.  Also, over the past 5 years, it has provided $630 million to finance several sectors — especially health care.  He expressed hope for a just solution to the refugee situation in accordance with international law.

FATHIMATH NAJWA (Maldives) expressed hope that allegations of misconduct by certain individuals within UNRWA can be swiftly investigated.  She called for better transparency, accountability and efficiency measures for the Agency’s work, while emphasizing the need for unhindered humanitarian assistance for millions of Palestine refugees.  As such, she expressed serious concern about UNRWA’s recent unprecedented funding shortfall, forcing it to change how its emergency interventions are undertaken.  Noting that several Member States have provided financial support, she expressed hope that the remaining shortfall will be bridged as quickly as possible.

NEVILLE MELVIN GERTZE (Namibia) said that almost 1 million refugees in Gaza depend on UNRWA for food and other basic needs due to the devastating economic environment there.  Palestine refugees in the West Bank are subjected to restrictions on movement, as well as increased evictions and demolition of their homes to make way for Israeli settlements.  Reiterating his strong opposition to those settlements, which violate the rights of Palestine refugees under Security Council resolution 2334 (2016), he emphasized that any proposed Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley is prohibited under international law.  He was disappointed by the recent announcement that the municipality of Jerusalem is terminating UNRWA activities in Occupied East Jerusalem, adding that he was also concerned about the security threats against the Agency, which ensures that vital services are provided to more than 5 million vulnerable Palestine refugees.

HUMBERTO RIVERO ROSARIO (Cuba), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, said that the lack of the necessary funds for UNRWA is concerning given the wide range of services the Agency provides, including primary health consultations, schooling, social protections, microloans, assistance to rehabilitate or build housing and health centres.  Citing efforts to undermine UNRWA through allegations against its upper management, he observed that the OIOS had already concluded that there was no misuse of funds and that the alleged misconduct did not affect the programmes the Agency carries out.  Those conclusions should restore international confidence in UNRWA.  The Agency has persevered despite the operational deficit and intentional cuts of funding in 2018 by its largest donor.  Advocating for the extension of UNRWA’s mandate, he called upon Member States to show political will in order to provide sustainable and predictable funding to the Agency.

ALIAA ALI (Syria), associating herself with the Non-Aligned Movement, said responsibility for Palestine refugees is an international one, politically, legally and morally.  Noting that the United Nations has been unable to implement its own resolutions on the occupation of Arab territories, she said that inability has encouraged Israel to continue its forced displacement of the Palestinian people and to deny their right of return to their homes.  Noting that Syria has hosted Palestine refugees as brothers pending their return to their homeland, she said they are provided with services and treated like Syrian citizens, without distinction.  “Syria will spare no effort in protecting Palestine refugees on its territories,” she emphasized, noting that their suffering in her country is due to the actions of armed terrorist groups that have occupied their camps and denied them access to humanitarian relief.  However, Syria’s army has managed to free the camps, she said, adding that the suffering of Palestine refugees in those camps was part of an agenda to displace and deny them their rights.  Israel is the only reason for their suffering, she emphasized, pointing out that the latter has forced Palestinians out of their homes and pursued them wherever they take asylum.  Noting Israel’s continuing criticism of UNRWA, she reaffirmed the importance of enabling the Agency to continue providing services to refugees.  She went on to point out that her country’s expenditure on Palestine refugees has reached a total of 59 billion Syrian lire.  Rejecting any proposed decrease in UNRWA’s social services, she emphasized that any such decrease is tantamount to a violation of United Nations resolutions. The United Nations must take urgent measures to deal with the deficit confronting the Agency, she stressed, urging donor countries to secure adequate and sustainable funding for UNRWA.

IBRAHIM MODIBBO UMAR (Nigeria), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, said the occupying Power’s recent attempts to end or replace UNRWA services in East Jerusalem are counterproductive, pointing out that the proposal for alternative schools contravenes General Assembly and Security Council resolutions.  The broader ongoing efforts to assert a stronger Israeli presence and authority over East Jerusalem also undermine the Agency’s mandate, he pointed out, emphasizing that any unilateral attempt to remove UNRWA from East Jerusalem also contravenes United Nations resolutions and is unacceptable.  Nigeria calls upon all parties to work closely with the United Nations and its agencies to achieve the shared objective of a two-State solution, he said.  However, the peace process cannot be achieved without ending and reversing Israel’s settlement expansion policy in the Occupied Palestinian territories, he emphasized, encouraging that country to take concrete steps to freeze and reverse all such activities.  Unilateral actions will not resolve the conflict, he stressed.

NASREDDINE NAOUALI (Tunisia), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, commended the vital role played by UNRWA in alleviating the suffering of Palestine refugees despite difficult circumstances and increasing financial crises.  Expressing concern for the Agency’s financial deterioration and its continued budget deficit, he highlighted the consequences of the situation on the ground and regional stability.  There must be concerted international and regional efforts to deal with the financial deficit and enable UNRWA to continue its work.  Moreover, he welcomed the Organization of Islamic Cooperation resolution establishing a development fund for Palestine refugees and its continued efforts to support the Agency’s budget.  Noting the initial investigations into UNRWA, he underlined the need for transparency and support.

SONALI SAMARASINGHE (Sri Lanka) urged Member States to separate current administrative issues regarding UNRWA from the political, financial and humanitarian support extended to Palestine refugees through its work.  Expressing support for the renewal of its mandate for three years, she also spotlighted the severely restricted rights of children to education in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, and commended UNRWA’s service in maintaining educational infrastructure in the occupied territories.  In this regard, she noted with regret reports of the increasing arrests of children and their ill-treatment during detention.  Conditions in the Gaza Strip are desperate because of the blockade and repeated escalations of hostilities, she observed.  In addition, she expressed concern about the growth in the number of registered Palestine refugees and their increased vulnerability and poverty impacting the Agency’s programme budget.

NAGARAJ NAIDU KAKANUR (India), pointing out that UNRWA’s resources come from voluntary contributions with a limited donor base, stressed that this arrangement is already fraught with uncertainties.  It is critical that the faith of donors in the Agency is restored.  He thanked the Secretary‑General for keeping Member States informed of the ongoing investigation and for confirming that the allegations under investigation do not relate to any fraud or misappropriation of operational funds provided by donors.  UNRWA’s financial situation is dire, he said, noting that a funding gap of $89 million remains against a budget of $1.2 billion in 2019.  This has put at risk the Agency’s core services to Palestine refugees, particularly in the fields of education, health and assistance to the most vulnerable.  The Agency has been able to overcome similar funding gaps in the past through innovative global fundraising campaigns and internal cost-saving measures.

ÖNCÜ KEÇELI (Turkey), underscoring that UNRWA has always supported Palestine refugees through their most difficult times, said, “Today, we need the Agency more than ever.”  Citing the ongoing illegal occupation, forced displacement of Palestinians and attempts to redefine the status of those refugees, he called on the international community to provide the Agency with political and financial support.  His country’s Government recently transferred $10 million to UNRWA and is striving to widen the Agency’s donor base.  Noting an important financial contribution by the Government of Afghanistan, he added that the Waqf Fund of the Islamic Development Bank is now operational and will help provide sustainable financial support.  “We cannot allow political discussions to discredit the Agency and its staff,” he stressed.

MOHAMED KAMAL ALI ELHOMOSANY (Egypt), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, said that the Palestinian population is under constant strain, making UNRWA’s role essential in mitigating their suffering and safeguarding the stability of the entire region.  Despite the sacrifices UNRWA has made, some countries remain indifferent, questioning the credibility of the Agency and calling for its closing, he observed.  Since the preliminary investigative report reveals no misuse or abuse of funds, he called on Member States to extend UNRWA’s mandate and resume aid as soon as possible.

FARAH SIBLINI (Lebanon), associating herself with the Non-Aligned Movement, said the Palestine refugees’ “North Star” has become a search for home, with each generation as committed as the last.  Lebanon hosts one of the largest communities of Palestine refugees, with the current number of registered at 465,000, in addition to the thousands who have moved from Syria since the crisis, she estimated.  Emphasizing the vital importance of funding for the Agency, she warned against the consequences that might unfold if support is withdrawn.  Any deficiency in education means a death sentence for generations to come.  Welcoming the initiative taken by friendly countries during meetings held last June and September for UNRWA fundraising, she rejected any amendment to the Agency’s mandate.  UNRWA has shouldered an important responsibility since its inception, she said, providing a security network for generations of Palestinians and keeping the hope of a political solution alive.

LU CUI (China) recalled that UNRWA has provided assistance and protection to more than 5 million Palestine refugees, promoting their socioeconomic development while easing the pressure borne by the host countries.  The Agency has also prevented the spread of terrorism and extremist ideologies in the refugee camps.  Though faced with a financial crisis, it has achieved positive results.  As such, the international community has pulled together to help the Agency overcome its difficulties.  China has increased its annual contribution for 2019 as a demonstration of support, she reported, adding that China will also offer the Agency support through relief projects.  She called for predictable, sustainable and continuous funding for UNRWA, as well as the renewal of its mandate without preconditions.  The two-State solution is the only way to resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict, she stressed.

FATIMATOU FAYE (Senegal), associating herself with the Non-Aligned Movement, noted that Palestine refugees are a diverse community in a fragmented region.  They have been deeply affected by regional conflicts as well as the Agency’s financial situation.  The international community’s lasting support to Palestine refugees remains the only proof of its commitment to these people.  The best way to support them is by bolstering UNRWA.  The Agency’s programmes are essential to the millions who depend on its services, including education, primary health care and food assistance.  Despite the crisis, the Agency was able to launch its “Dignity Is Priceless” campaign, she reported, noting that any interruption of its services would exacerbate the fragile situation on the ground.  Indeed, the cost-reduction measures implemented have already increased the feeling of abandonment amongst Palestine refugees.

YASER ABDULRAZAAQ WAHIB WAHIB (Iraq), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, said that the humanitarian problems faced by Palestine refugees represent a common responsibility until a permanent solution to the conflict is reached.  In the absence of such a solution, the General Assembly has repeatedly renewed UNRWA’s mandate, with the latest renewal extending to June 2020.  He pointed to Israel’s attempts to “kill off” the Agency by convincing States to stop funding or by combining it with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.  Such proposals have always been rejected by Arab States and host countries because they understand how closely the Agency is linked with Palestinians’ humanitarian needs.  The Agency cannot complete its work until Palestinians are able to return to their homes; the international community bears a responsibility in this regard.  Indeed, UNRWA’s mandate must be renewed until a just solution is found for the plight of Palestine refugees.  Recalling that UNRWA received exceptional support at the annual pledging conference in June, he pointed out that many States highlighted the importance of its role and continued existence.

NOA FURMAN (Israel) noted that her country has worked closely with UNRWA in providing services to Palestine refugees over the last 70 years and her delegation has strongly criticized the Agency, but it does not wish to harm the aid.  Regretfully, however, rather than focusing on humanitarian relief, the Agency promotes a controversial political agenda, including support for the right of return for Palestine refugees, she noted.  Recalling that Israel warned against members of Hamas holding key positions within the Agency, she said supporting the Agency today is a misuse of international funds, describing UNRWA as “corrupted and ineffective”.  The recent scandal is just the tip of the iceberg, she added.  Questioning if the corruption is limited to the Agency’s leadership or whether, in fact, it has sullied the Agency’s broader activities, she called for a close examination of its activities to determine how its funds are spent.  She went on to say UNRWA has become a political organization, emphasizing:  “It is now a Palestinian organization that serves the Palestinian narrative.”  What started with 750,000 refugees in 1948 has today grown into an Agency serving 5.5 million people because the Agency considers their descendants refugees — despite their having been settled as full citizens of other countries, she said.  “Because of UNRWA, 5.5 million people still hold onto the false hope of returning to houses that either no longer exist or in which they themselves have never lived.”  That is unfair both to Palestinians, who remain eternal refugees, and to Israel, because a return of those refugees “would bring about the end of Israel as the home of the Jewish people,” she pointed out.  Describing the Agency as one of the largest employers in the Palestinian Authority, she said that it therefore has an interest in perpetuating the problem.  Israel, however, hopes to reach a political solution, she said, calling for an end to UNRWA’s mandate, for the gradual reorganization of its humanitarian services and for better channels to finance humanitarian aid “without financing politics and corruption”.

ODD INGE KVALHEIM (Norway) emphasized that there is no alternative to UNRWA in terms of providing essential services to the most vulnerable Palestine refugees, and its financial situation is therefore a matter of great concern.  Noting that the Government of Norway increased its contributions to the Agency to $27 million in 2018 and 2019 to ensure it can continue to deliver on its mandate, he welcomed the increased contributions from existing and new donors that closed the budget shortfall in 2018.  The past two years have been marked by financial and managerial crises for UNRWA, he said, calling for expeditious and thorough follow-up to the OIOS report.  Extending the Agency’s mandate for another three-year period is key to ensuring the continuous delivery of essential services to Palestine refugees, he stressed.

MOHAMMAD KURNIADI KOBA (Indonesia), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, expressed regret over deteriorating humanitarian conditions for Palestinians, who are enduring poverty, unemployment and “unrelenting illegal Israeli actions”.  Urging the international community to jointly address the humanitarian situation and to reach a solution in accordance with international law, he commended UNRWA for its provision of critical aid, enabling the safeguarding of Palestinians’ inalienable rights and addressing their growing despair.  The international community is obliged to protect and support UNRWA, as it is operating in a violent environment and facing financial problems.  He called on the United Nations to ensure sufficient, sustainable and predictable funding, adding that while it is crucial to improve the Agency’s management, “it is unthinkable, indeed inhuman, to defund or shut down the organization.”  He expressed support for administrative measures that will underline UNRWA’s credibility and professionalism.

ANATOLIO NDONG MBA (Equatorial Guinea), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, said persistent instability in the Middle East was the catalyst for creating UNRWA.  Emphasizing that the Agency’s financial crisis must not impede the delivery of humanitarian service to Palestine refugees, he said the latter now face a critical situation, including displacement arising from the conflicts in the region.  Until a politically sustainable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is found, UNRWA will be indispensable in providing vital services and playing a stabilizing role, he stressed.

RAJEEL MOHSIN (Pakistan), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, said that the 5 million Palestine refugees epitomize a tale of dispossession and displacement suffered by generations.  UNRWA’s role in that regard is both imperative and inevitable, especially because the prospect of a just settlement of the question is becoming increasingly distant, he noted, while emphasizing that the integrity of the Agency’s activities — including providing education, health and social services — cannot be maintained without sufficient, predictable and sustainable financing.  In the wake of UNRWA’s unprecedented resource shortfall in 2018, he recalled, both traditional and new donors stepped up their contributions to help bridge the gap, but the Agency still faces a shortfall of approximately $90 million in 2019.  “While we have also heard calls for better management of existing resources of UNRWA, management can only address inefficiency, not insufficiency,” he stressed.  Noting that the Agency has undertaken a series of reforms to better utilize resources and optimize efficiency, he underlined that the international community must not fail Palestine refugees.  “Their humanitarian needs should not be mortgaged to political expediencies and partisan interests,” he added, announcing that Pakistan made additional contributions of $250,000 towards UNRWA during the past two years.

MUHAMMAD FALAH AZIZAN (Malaysia), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, expressed concern over the deteriorating situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including the increase in violent attacks that have disrupted UNRWA’s ability to provide its services.  Malaysia has been providing assistance to the Government and people of Palestine, he said, adding that its efforts have been supported by various local non-governmental organizations.  He went on to affirm his delegation’s support for a three-year extension of UNRWA’s mandate.

TATJANA KONIECZNY (Luxembourg), associating herself with the European Union, said UNRWA has been a reliable partner and her country has either sustained or increased its contributions every year.  However, the support for UNRWA is not enough, she said, emphasizing the crucial need to find a lasting solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict through a negotiated peace based on two States.  The international community must not remain on the sidelines of the conflict, she emphasized.  Encouraging UNRWA to continue its internal reforms, she noted that the Agency has carried out its mandate effectively, urging donors to fulfill their commitments while warning against ending support for UNRWA.

TIMUR KIRABAEV (Russian Federation) said the removal of funding by UNRWA’s largest donor is regrettable in light of its essential role in the region.  The Agency was able to remain markedly balanced and impartial in carrying out its broad mandate despite the pressures exerted upon it, he noted, announcing that his country has disbursed three parts of a $10 million contribution planned for the period until 2021.  As a member of the Security Council, the Russian Federation is committed to assisting in the Middle East peace process, he added, stressing that the refugee question is at the heart of the matter.  Describing attempts to diminish that question as useless, he said assistance and support for UNRWA’s work will move the peace process forward and expressed support for extending the Agency’s mandate.

EDUARDO ALCIBIADES SANCHEZ KIESSLICH (Mexico) said UNRWA’s work is fundamental to the well-being and human rights of Palestine refugees and will remain vital until a just solution to the conflict is reached.  Noting that the continuing instability of the Middle East poses serious consequences for civilians, especially women and children, he said the international community must join the Agency’s efforts to provide humanitarian assistance as necessary, emphasizing that UNRWA’s role should be understood as central.  He went on to say that Mexico is studying the possibility of making another contribution to the Agency.  All Member States should be part of a solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, he said, emphasizing the need to avoid politicizing the process, thereby creating additional impediments.

TAREQ MD ARIFUL ISLAM (Bangladesh), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, said the international community must deliver on its responsibility by paying attention to the rights of Palestine refugees.  Calling for sustainable and predictable funding of the Agency, he said Bangladesh will do its modest part in that regard.  The Agency’s support provides a lifeline to Palestine refugees and needs sufficient resources to fulfil its mandate, he noted.  Describing the funding shortage as unfortunate, he said it jeopardizes the Agency’s ability to provide essential services.  In closing, he reiterated his delegation’s strong support for the renewal of UNRWA’s mandate.

HENRY JONATHAN VIERA SALAZAR (Ecuador), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, reiterated his delegation’s support for UNRWA’s mandate and services.  Noting that the Agency needs $1.2 billion if it is to carry out its mandate effectively, as indicated in the Secretary‑General’s report, it currently has a deficit of $89 million.  He called upon Member States to increase their contributions to the Agency, saying his delegation trusts that its effort for reform and transparency will be successfully implemented.

HUSNI MUSTAFA YAGOUB HUSNI (Sudan), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, said that since there are currently 5.5 million Palestine refugees, UNRWA faces persistent challenges in delivering its services.  Nevertheless, it has been able to keep schools and hospitals open and medical teams in place, providing care with great efficiency, he noted.  In fact, the Agency’s efforts led to significant cost savings over the last five years, he pointed out, encouraging UNRWA to continue its cost-cutting policies.  States must increase their contributions in order to enable UNRWA to fulfil its goals and facilitate the sharing of responsibility and increased solidarity, he said, noting that adequate funding will ensure the Agency’s ability to support new generations and constitutes an investment in human capital and development.  Sudan supports the extension of UNRWA’s mandate, he added.

RAHMA SAMAI (Algeria), associating herself with the Non-Aligned Movement, noted that UNRWA provides education to 500,000 children, as well as health services and emergency assistance to millions of Palestine refugees.  Algeria regrets the freezing of financial support by certain Member States due to allegations of the misconduct against some individuals at UNRWA, she added.  Calling upon the international community to shoulder its responsibility and find a new formula to guarantee the Agency’s financial sustainability, she emphasized that it must also reject any reduction in UNRWA’s funding, which would have repercussions for 5.5 million Palestine refugees.  Moreover, it would be unfair to reduce the Agency’s mandate term from three years to one, she said, calling upon Member States to vote in favour of a three-year extension.

BERNARDITO CLEOPAS AUZA, observer for the Holy See, noted that UNRWA provides humanitarian aid for 5.4 million Palestinians, one third of whom live in 58 refugee camps across the region.  Among the challenges it faces is precarious funding, which is threatened by cuts and shortfalls in contributions from donor States.  The international community should avoid politicization of humanitarian aid, and breaking its pledge to support long-suffering victims of war.  The Agency is also challenged by attempts to redefine Palestine refugees, narrowly limiting the designation to the survivors of the 1948 conflict and attempting to force descendants living elsewhere to be treated as citizens of their countries of refuge.  This recategorizing would deprive the vast majority of Palestine refugees of UNRWA assistance, greatly worsening their plight and placing insupportable burdens on their host countries at a time when tensions in the region are increased.

NASRIA ELARJA FLITTI, observer for the League of Arab States, emphasized the importance of continuing to provide support to Palestine refugees wherever they reside.  UNRWA’s broad mandate covers five fields and given its current financial crisis, the socioeconomic situation in those fields will deteriorate, she noted.  Israel’s actions of displacement and violence, as well as its undermining of the right to expression and protest, adversely affect UNRWA’s resilience, she noted, stressing that the Agency is vital in sustaining security and stability in the refugee camps and in host communities.  Regarding the allegations of management and misconduct, she expressed regret over media leaks that occurred before the announcement of the results of the independent internal investigation, which found no evidence of fraud or corruption.  International confidence in the Agency should be restored, she said, urging Member States to continue to provide adequate funding to UNRWA.  She also called upon those who froze their contributions to reconsider their decisions, emphasizing that the League rejects politicization of the Palestine refugee question.

Closing Remarks

Mr. SAUNDERS commended UNRWA’s staff and expressed appreciation for the generosity of its host countries.  UNRWA is an effective and reliable partner, he said, citing the June report by the Multilateral Organisation Performance Assessment Network.  He went on to list some of the Agency’s successes, including the accomplishments of its students who score higher-than-average test results.  In terms of health services, he described an innovative mobile application that UNRWA developed for maternal care, emphasizing that the Agency does more than any other United Nations entity to support persons with disabilities and most of its facilities are accessible.  He went on to highlight the precarious nature of the Agency’s finances, declaring:  “Simply put, in two weeks, we run out of funds.”  The Agency is facing the possibility of having to reduce and, indeed, stop providing services, he said.  Where will its 250,000 students go if education services are interrupted?  Noting that such an eventuality could negatively affect stability in an already tense region, he urged those able to make additional contributions to do so urgently and those who have made pledges to make them available.  Concerning the OIOS investigation, he reiterated that it did not reveal corruption or fraud, emphasizing his personal commitment to guiding the Agency through the present period.

Right of Reply

An observer for the State of Palestine, responding to Israel, said that country’s baseless attacks and claims of corruption within UNRWA have already been proven untrue.  “There is a clear solution to this problem,” she said, calling upon Israel to stop violating the right of Palestinians to self-determination.  It should also stop feigning concern about the billions of dollars in international funding needed to put a “humanitarian band-aid” on the wound that Israel refuses to close.  The solution is not in depriving a people in need, she said, emphasizing that UNRWA’s activities are fully in accordance with its mandate from the General Assembly.  Only accountability can put a stop to impunity and allow for a political solution to the crisis, she stressed.  Rejecting Israel’s rhetoric about who constitutes a Palestine refugee, she described it as an attempt to strip them of their status and rights, underlining that those rights do not diminish with the passage of time.  The right of return is an individual and collective one, explicitly reaffirmed in more than 150 United Nations resolutions, and cannot be dismissed to accommodate Israel’s schemes, she emphasized.  Citing Israel’s attempts to deny rights to descendants of refugees, she underscored that they are considered refugees until a lasting solution to the conflict is found, in accordance with international law.

The representative of Israel, responding to Syria’s statement, described the notion that Israel is the only reason for Palestinian suffering as false.  Israelis were the ones who accepted the initial peace plan, he said, adding that Palestinians rejected the proposal and Israel was attacked by its Arab neighbours.  He went on to note that the Syrian regime prides itself on its treatment of Palestine refugees while slaughtering its own people, pointing out that the alleged mistreatment of refugees has been confirmed by United Nations reports.

For information media. Not an official record.