Speech by Sweden’s Minister for Foreign Affairs at UNRWA Conference in Rome

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Speech by Ms Margot Wallström, Minister for Foreign Affairs, 15 March 2018 in Rome, at the Conference “Preserving dignity and Sharing Responsibility – Mobilizing Collective Action for UNRWA”. UNRWA is the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.

Mr Secretary-General, Guterres
High Representative Mogherini,
Minister Shoukry,
Minister Safadi,
Commissioner-General Krähenbühl,
Director-General Da Silva
Ladies and Gentlemen,

We have gathered here today because over the last few years, we have witnessed how UNRWA and its vital humanitarian work have been jeopardised time and again due to insufficient funding. We have seen how some countries take great financial responsibility for the organisation while others do not. We are here because this is an organisation we care deeply about and that carries a mission of great importance and that is a lifeline for millions of Palestinian refugees, an organisation that has undergone challenging transformations over the past year in order to enhance efficiency and reduce costs. A work that needs to continue.

This commitment means that the funding of UNRWA is our shared responsibility, both for the countries in the region as well as for the rest of the world. Despite the disappointment of this unprecedented funding crisis, the international community’s strong commitment to UNRWA demonstrated in this room today fills me with hope.

I have co-chaired similar meetings on UNRWA’s financial situation to ensure that more than half a million children would receive their basic education, to safeguard access to health care for 3.4 million people, and to uphold the rights and dignity of more than 5 million Palestine refugees.

I am deeply concerned about the situation that UNRWA and Palestine refugees are facing today. In the last 70 years we have been witnessing an ever-worsening situation on the ground: the increasing pace of settlement expansion and continued violence and demolitions are destroying the hope of a viable and sustainable two-state solution.

We need to remember that UNRWA is of strategic importance to all of us, exerting a stabilising influence on a region severely affected by conflict and extremism. By providing education, health care, countering hateful propaganda and upholding human dignity.

For those considering the financing of UNRWA too costly I ask of you to consider the costs of doing nothing. Because there are consequences if we fail the young generation of Palestinians. Consequences that could lead to regional instability, security threats and radicalization. We must instead do our part to bring hope to the young generation.

Despite all the efforts of host countries, donors and others, UNRWA is facing an unprecedented shortfall of USD 446 million. This is simply unacceptable. Through the mandate given to UNRWA by the General Assembly, we have all committed to supporting the Agency until a negotiated, lasting and just solution to the Palestine refugee situation is reached.

I am very pleased to see that Sweden is not alone in its long-standing and firm commitment to this goal. I would like to thank Jordan and Egypt for co-chairing this meeting with us. I am also very grateful for the strong commitment and leadership of the Secretary-General, for the support of the High Representative, and to all of you who have come here today.

In response to UNRWA’s call for donors to front-load their donations, Sweden contributed USD 58.5 million in January this year. Finding long-term solutions and predictable and sustainable funding of UNRWA is more important than ever. To help ensure this, Sweden will enter into a multiyear agreement with UNRWA this year.

However, alternative funding solutions alone will not save UNRWA. Commissioner-General, we commend your efforts and hard work to enhance efficiency, but also recognise that more work is required. In this process, you can count on our support.

A sustainable solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, including the final status issues, must be at the core of all our efforts, and will serve to bring new hope to the young generation of the region. Let all of us here today make this collective action for financing UNRWA a success.

Thank you.

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