New York

26 September 2013

Secretary-General's remarks to meeting of a group of supporters of UNRWA

I am pleased to welcome you to today’s Special Meeting of a Group of Supporters of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, UNRWA.

I have convened this meeting along with the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, His Excellency Mr. Nabil El Araby because this vital Agency needs your support.

At a time of great turbulence in the Middle East, we need your commitment to intensify support for UNRWA and its crucial work on behalf of vulnerable Palestine refugee communities in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria.

Let me be clear: the demands placed on UNRWA today are unprecedented. Under very challenging circumstances, UNRWA is providing basic education, health, relief and social services to five million Palestine refugees. That number increases by 150,000 each year.

UNRWA is also managing crises affecting all its areas of operations. It provides emergency assistance to all more than half a million Palestine refugees registered in Syria. Over half of them are internally displaced, while 60,000 others have fled to Lebanon and Jordan.

UNRWA is also alleviating poverty and distress in Gaza. More than half the population there depends on food assistance from the Agency to survive.

The Agency needs adequate funding to continue assisting Palestine refugees to live in dignity until a just resolution of the refugee question is found. International donor contributions account for 97 per cent of UNRWA’s funding.

Many donors, including some of the countries here today, have generously supported UNRWA over many years. I sincerely thank them for their efforts.

But more needs to be done to support the Agency. UNRWA faces a funding deficit on its basic programmes of $50 million. This deficit will double next year, calling into question UNRWA’s future ability to provide basic services to refugees.

Already some UNRWA services have been cut. For example, the Agency can no longer make small support payments that helped the poorest refugees in Gaza and the West Bank. This is contributing to a heightened sense among Palestine refugees that the international community is abandoning them.

I am committed to finding concrete ways to reverse these trends.

UNRWA has worked hard in recent years to broaden its donor base, but it takes time to realize results from new donor partnerships.

I call on all of UNRWA’s traditional donors, who account for around 90 per cent of UNRWA’s financing, to sustain their efforts and, wherever feasible, to enhance their support to the Agency.

I also have a special message for the distinguished members of the League of Arab States. The League has a longstanding engagement to fund 7.8% of the costs of UNRWA’s basic programmes. If this were realized on a sustained basis, UNRWA would be in a much more stable financial position. I urge you to back UNRWA with concrete pledges today or very soon after this meeting.

The Agency does not need a huge amount of additional resources, but the impact on Palestine refugees if these funds are not raised could be enormous.

We should view supporting UNRWA in the context of the negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis. I am encouraged by the commitment of the parties to make progress. Although challenges remain, direct negotiations are the only path for reaching the long awaited two-State solution, and establishing an independent and viable Palestinian state.

A comprehensive Middle East peace agreement will benefit everyone. In particular it should put an end to the dire situation of Palestine refugees and enable them to realise their justified hopes and aspirations.

Meanwhile, we must continue to honour our responsibility to assist the millions of Palestine refugees who depend on the United Nations. This is the mission of UNRWA and it deserves your urgent support.

Thank you for your support and commitment.