It is a two-day meeting of 65-70 countries, inter-governmental organisations and international aid agencies to plan medium term development strategies for the 4.1 million Palestine refugees registered with UNRWA. From 7-8 June, the main discussions will cover
1. the wellbeing of Palestine refugee children;
2. housing, infrastructure and the environment in Palestine refugee camps;
3. the socio-economic development of the refugees and
4. the management and mobilization of resources on behalf of the refugees.
Who is hosting the conference?
The conference is a joint initiative of UNRWA and the Swiss Government in the form of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC). Switzerland is the official host and its Foreign Minister is expected to open the meeting.
Why is it not being held at the Palais des Nations, the UN Headquarters in Europe, where must UN conferences take place?
This is not a normal UN conference. First of all, participation is by invitation of the organizers; so, not all UN member states are expected to come, only those already involved in the Agency’s work or prepared to provide practical support in the near future. Normally UNRWA meets its major stakeholders twice a year in Jordan. This is an extraordinary event, which Switzerland is paying for. That is why the meeting will be in Geneva’s International Conference Centre.
Why is the conference being held?
UNRWA is funded by voluntary contributions, which have not kept pace with growing needs. This has led to deteriorating infrastructure and slipping standards of shelter, healthcare and education for the refugees. UNRWA has developed a plan of activities (called the Medium Term Plan) to reverse the decline over the next five years. But the funding for that plan is not guaranteed. In preparing for Geneva, the host authorities, the international donor community and other UN agencies are working together to agree key objectives in line with the MTP, and recommend ways in which they can be achieved.
What does UNRWA wish to see come out of the conference?
Stronger support from major donors, to back the goals and financial requirements of the MTP – a plan which will add substantially to the amount of money that the Agency must raise each year. Secondly, a broadening of the existing donor support base, to engage those that share the Agency’s goals but have only made a token contribution so far. This result will hopefully show itself in years to come following the implementation of concrete steps for improving the lives and human potential of the refugees.
Is it a pledging conference?
Not as such. Nevertheless, UNRWA would be pleased if donors were to announce fresh pledges at the Conference, based on their study of requirements spelt out in conference documents. More likely, we believe that by taking part in the process of developing plans for assisting the refugees, the donor community will be more inclined to provide the Agency with increased funding in order to implement those plans.
Who is invited?
Senior officials from aid agencies, Foreign Ministries and other multilateral development bodies from 67 countries have been invited. They represent countries that have given tangible support to the Agency, in large or small measure, over the past decade. About 15 UN partner organizations working in the region are also attending, as are representatives of the host authorities in the areas where UNRWA operates – Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the occupied Palestinian territory. Three umbrella NGO bodies based in Geneva will represent the wider NGO community. Altogether about 400 persons are expected to attend.
Is the conference part of the Peace Process? Is it linked to the Geneva Accords or the Road Map?
As a purely humanitarian organisation UNRWA has no direct part to play in the peace process and there are thus no political implications to the conference. Indirectly, the Middle East as a whole, and of course the refugees themselves, can only benefit from a refugee population whose needs are fully met. The location of the conference in Geneva is entirely unrelated to the so-called Geneva Accords.
Will the conference discuss the refugees’ right of return?
No. The conference will not tackle political issues.
Is the conference intended to lead to the resettlement of the refugees and the dissolution of UNRWA?
No. In fact, quite the opposite. The conference is designed to guarantee the medium-term future of the Agency and to improve its services to the refugees.