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Speech by Commissioner Christos Stylianides at the High-level Commemorative Conference
on the Occasion of the 65th Anniversary Event of UNRWA
02 June 2015
Christos Stylianides - Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management
New York, Speech at the High-level Commemorative Conference on the Occasion of the 65th Anniversary Event of United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA)
Your Excellency Secretary General,
Your Excellency President of the General Assembly,
We are here today to congratulate UNRWA for its distinguished work with Palestine refugees in the Middle East. Thanks to UNRWA, over five million people in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria now have primary education. Health and social services.
At the same time, we cannot avoid but to reflect on the sad meaning of today’s sixty-fifth anniversary. An anniversary that signifies a longstanding and painful situation for Palestine and its refugees. A situation that remains unresolved for far too long.
Over the past sixty-five years, UNRWA has worked to improve the living conditions and human dignity of millions of Palestine refugees. And of their host communities. The Agency was not only able to deliver basic services to Palestine refugees under very harsh conditions. It was also able to ensure it at very high standards. For this we are grateful.
I am particularly impressed by how the Agency has been performing under increasingly difficult circumstances. Only in the last three years the UNRWA had to face the Syrian crisis. A crisis with severe consequences in Lebanon and Jordan. It had to also face the renewed conflicts in Gaza and the alarming humanitarian situation that resulted as a consequence.
In the EU we are aware that UNRWA plays a key role in the region. It has always been on the frontline. It has been a stable service provider and a source of protection to the refugee community. This is why the EU has always strongly supported the Agency. With large and constant contributions to its General Fund. As well as with timely contributions for specific initiatives.
Our longstanding political and economic support for UNRWA is in line with the European Union’s humanitarian engagement around the world. With the respect for international law. Including international humanitarian law and human rights.
Let me highlight the fact that, along with its Member States, the EU remains the largest and most predictable donor to UNRWA.
Since 2000, the EU has provided over 1.6 billion Euros to the Agency. Mainly aiming to sustain the delivery of essential public services to the refugees.
Under the European Neighbourhood Instrument, the average EU contribution to the UNWRA General Fund alone is 82 million Euros per year. On top of that the EU mobilises every year dozens of millions of Euros. For project work that UNWRA implements with EU funding.
UNRWA also provides vital humanitarian emergency services. It is one of the main operational partners in occupied Palestinian territories for EU humanitarian funding. The total humanitarian allocation reached 40 million Euros in the last five years.
This allocation has allowed UNRWA to support vital activities. Such as shelter response for the most vulnerable households. Including during the conflict in Gaza last summer.
We immediately mobilized extra funding supporting UNRWA in providing early relief efforts. We will continue to do so in 2015. Our funding supports cash assistance programs to improve shelter conditions. And to provide household items that were lost during last year's hostilities.
Despite this substantial support, we know that EU contributions alone are not enough to meet the increasing needs of the Agency. They are not enough to fill its financial gap: UNRWA’s core budget is underfunded. So are the emergency appeals.
The number and needs of the Palestine refugees continue growing. At the same time, the prospects for progress in the Middle East Peace Process remain illusive. This is an unfortunate reality.
It is precisely for this reason that the EU strongly calls on all donors to further increase their efforts to mobilise additional funds to support UNRWA. This will allow Palestinian refugees to continue benefiting of basic services. And to have a perspective for human development.
High Representative/Vice President Mogherini has shown strong commitment to the cause of the Palestinian people. She is determined to work for the achievement of a comprehensive peace agreement based on a two-state solution. The appointment of the EU Special Representative for the Middle East Peace Process, Fernando Gentilini, underlines the EU's determination to step-up engagement in the Middle East Peace Process.
At the same time, the dramatic and desperate situation of Palestine refugees continues with no improvement. There is a real danger of becoming used to a situation that is constantly deteriorating. A situation that it has already stripped the dignity of human beings.
I call therefore on the international community to continue seeking a just and lasting solution for Palestine and its refugees. Not to give up. But to increase the efforts for a fair, stable and equitable solution. Within the framework of a comprehensive and final permanent status agreement. Based on the principle of a two-state arrangement.
We have a collective responsibility to remain firm on these principles. We have a collective responsibility to help bring a political solution to a longstanding tragedy. We have a collective responsibility to stand by the people of Palestine.
Thank you very much.
For more information
Factsheet on Palestine:
Statement by Commissioner Stylianides and High Representative/Vice-President Mogherini on the situation in Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in Syria (10 April 2015):
Press release on increased aid to UNRWA for Yarmouk (7 April 2015):