06 April 2019

Opening remarks to the press after visit to the UNRWA Baqa’a camp

António Guterres

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.