It was a very emotional moment for me to enter the classroom of the UNRWA school for Palestine refugees and to see young children learning about and discussing human rights, and then to participate in a student parliament. And to see that in 700 schools, 530,000 Palestine refugee children are learning not only about science and about mathematics or about Arabic, but are learning about human rights, about democracy, about tolerance, making the conditions to be exemplary citizens. And this is something that warms my heart.
This means that these schools cannot close. This means that the assistance provided by UNRWA in health, in education in alleviation of poverty, in the empowerment of women and women’s dignity, all the programmes that UNRWA develops both in the West Bank and in Gaza, or in Jerusalem or here in Jordan, in Syrian and Lebanon. These programmes cannot stop. Not only do they represent a very important contribution to the well-being of the Palestine refugee population, to see their rights being respected, to see their dignity being upheld, but they are also a very important factor of stability.
Can you imagine in the tragic situation of Gaza if all of the schools would close the terrible impact it would have? Can you imagine if here in Jordan, UNRWA would not be able to have its health and education programmes, the devastating impact it would have in a country like Jordan that suffers so many negative impacts from the outside?
I appeal to the international community knowing that UNRWA has been facing extremely difficult financial problems, I appeal to the international community to be able, as it was possible last year, to guarantee that the vital support for the rights of the Palestinian refugees to be upheld, for the stability of the region to be protected. I appeal to the whole international community to maintain in 2019 the level of financing for UNRWA and to make sure that that stability is guaranteed for the following year.
We are in a very difficult circumstance. I just authorized about $20 million dollars for food assistance in Gaza hoping that the donors would be able to match these funds, but the international community has a huge responsibility in relation to the Palestine refugees and I’m sure that once again in 2019 as in 2018, it will be possible to keep all these programmes alive.
I remember last year, the Director-General and me had a phone conversation just before the school year was beginning. He was telling me, “I have no guarantee to have funds until the end of the year, shall we open the schools? I believe we should open the schools.” And I told him of course we should open the schools and let’s pray for the support to come. The schools opened, and the year started and it was possible to find the funds necessary to have everything working.
It is absolutely essential to maintain this activity in 2019 and onwards. I want also to express my deep gratitude to Jordanian government for the support provided, allowing us to operate under these circumstances and once again to guarantee that the Palestine refugees, that for us, their rights and their interests are at the centre of our priorities.
Thank you very much.
Q: I have two questions. The first, how will the UN deal with what became known as the deal of the century? The second is, what do you think about the US President’s decision on the Golan Heights?
SG: Regarding the Golan it is very clear: all UN resolutions of the Security Council and the General Assembly say that the Golan are part of the Syrian territory and we firmly believe in the territorial integrity of Syria as any other country. On the other hand, I cannot comment on a deal I do not know. What I know is that we believe that the solution for the problems of Israel and Palestine is a two-State solution with Jerusalem as capital of two States living in peace and security together.
Q: Recent efforts haven’t managed to resolve escalation in Libya, what is your comment on that?
SG: We will never give up in our support to the Libyan people.
Q: UNRWA recently received contributions from Japan, Indonesia and other countries, does this mean you can survive without the support of the US?
SG: We still need a lot of support until the end of the year. Last year there was a very important contribution from the Gulf States. There was very solid support from several European countries, from Japan, from other developed countries in the world and we are mobilizing all the international support and there are a number of fundraising initiatives that will be launched during the year in order to make sure that we can get at least the same level of support from last year.
Q: So does this mean you don’t need US support?
SG: I’m not saying that the support is not needed, of course the support would be needed, but if we don’t have that support we are not going to give up. We are going to do everything we can to find ways to replace it.
Q: What are the future initiatives of UNRWA?
SG: We are working very hard with the support of Member States. The two leading states are Jordan and Sweden and there is a number of initiatives that will be launched. There will be a planning meeting in Sweden soon. We believe we’ll have a pledging conference similar to the one we had in Rome last year, probably after Ramadan, in a location we have to decide. There will be the usual New York activities during the General Assembly, and there is a permanent contact with the Member States but also with the private sector. My appeal is also to citizens, to companies, to different organizations of civil society – UNRWA needs to be able to survive in all its activities. Not only the support of the government but the support of people, of institutions, of companies. If there is something that I believe is a fundamental pillar that of Islam is the Zakat. If there is something that is a fundamental pillar of Islam is compassion and it is the need to support those that are in difficulties, so my appeal to the people and to the entities of the civil society and the business community in the Muslim world and everywhere in the world is also to contribute to maintain the activities of UNRWA.
Q: What will happen in Libya now?
SG: As I said, we will not give up our support for the Libyan people.