Commissioner-General’s Statement

Alumni Ceremony for Japan Scholarship Programme

Grand Hyatt Hotel, Amman, 7 April 2009

Your Excellencies, distinguished guests, alumni of the Japan Scholarship Program:

I am delighted to be here today to honour the alumni of the Japan Scholarship programme. This is a joyful occasion, on which we recognize and celebrate the hard work and achievement of our alumni. It is an opportunity to express UNRWA’s gratitude to the government and people of Japan for their generous funding and consistent support over the years. From 1989 to 1998, the year in which a lack of funds forced UNRWA to suspend its scholarship programme, the Government of Japan awarded 844 higher education scholarships for Palestine refugee students. Today the Japan Scholarship Program makes it possible for 65 refugee scholars to pursue 23 specializations across UNRWA’s five fields of operation. UNRWA and Palestine refugees are thankful for this help.

We must also express our appreciation to the governments and people of Jordan, Syria and Lebanon and to the Palestinian Authority for ensuring the placement of Palestinian students in institutions of higher learning and for providing them the space in which to pursue their aspirations. On a day such as this, all of us share a sense of satisfaction because we have before us living proof of the fruits of international cooperation in support of Palestine refugees.

Education has been central to UNRWA’s human development agenda throughout its sixty-year history. Today, more than half of our budget is devoted to the primary education of refugee children, with equal opportunity given to boys and girls. This is because we believe that a sound foundation in learning offers refugee children the most powerful asset for acquiring the skills and knowledge necessary for leading self-reliant and constructive lives. By providing a nurturing environment and curricula enriched with courses on human rights and conflict resolution, UNRWA schools help to promote positive social attitudes that embrace the shared values of our globalized world and are conducive to tolerance and peace. UNRWA’s emphasis on education also reflects a hallmark of Palestinian culture, namely the esteem Palestinians accord to knowledge and professional skills.

The rationales of the Japan Scholarship Programme converge with these underpinnings of UNRWA’s approach to education. The scholarship scheme gives priority to Palestine refugees most affected by poverty – those we refer to as families living in special hardship. And I am particularly pleased to note that nearly 70 percent of the scholars we honour today are women. Ensuring that women and economically vulnerable refugees have maximum access to tertiary education is an effective way to translate scholarship programmes into lasting social and economic change.

Your Excellencies, distinguished guests:

The Japan Scholarship Programme is an excellent illustration of the attainments that are possible when we combine our strengths – refugees, donors, host countries and authorities and UNRWA – to cultivate the huge economic and social potential that exists in Palestinian society. To fully realize that potential, however, much more needs to be done.

The shortfall in UNRWA’s General Fund hampers our plans to strengthen the quality of education and other programmes across the board. With respect to scholarships in particular, the places currently available are too few compared to the thousands of qualified refugees eager to take advantage of academic opportunities. It would be a welcome development if our Japanese partners and other donors would join forces to expand the scope of the current programme and to help raise tertiary education scholarships to a position of prominence among the services offered by UNRWA. I assure you, personally and on behalf of UNRWA, that doing so would be an excellent investment in a better future for Palestinians and Palestine refugees.

I take this opportunity to call attention to the need for a re-doubling of international efforts to address the conflict in our region, which for more than sixty years has so severely constricted the horizons of Palestinians and Palestine refugees. UNRWA, with the support of its donors and partners will continue vigorously to pursue its humanitarian and human development goals through education and other programmes. Yet we are not – and cannot be – blind to the formidable challenges posed to the achievement of those goals in the current context of the occupation of the Palestinian territory and recurrent armed conflict.

I appeal to the international community to renew its efforts to address these challenges and to help remove such impediments as the blockade of Gaza and the closure regime in the West Bank. I ask for an acceleration of negotiations to end the conflict, to achieve a just and lasting solution to the plight of Palestine refugees and to establish a viable Palestinian State.

These are imperative requirements if education is to accomplish its role fully as an instrument for human security, human development and prosperity for Palestinian society and the region. For the sake of the alumni we honour today, their families and the Palestinian community we hope the day will soon come when these aspirations are fulfilled.