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Source: United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA)
8 June 2004

Meeting the Humanitarian Needs of the
Palestine Refugees in the Near East: Building
Partnerships in Support of UNRWA

Geneva 7-8 June 2004


Ambassador Walter Fust

Director General
Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation

Mr Commissioner-General
Ladies and Gentlemen

I am honoured to conclude the proceedings of this Conference. A comprehensive report should soon be available, and I hope it will reflect well the spirit and substance of our debates during the past two days.

As Chairman of this Conference, I would like to briefly highlight our main achievements and comment on the outcomes of this important two-day meeting.

Allow me first to recall the key objectives set for this event:

During the last two days we have endeavoured to creatively link an interactive and participative discussion here in Geneva to the realities in the region. This has been an innovative feature of this Conference, which started its work with the convening of four parallel Workshops during the first day.

In the same participative spirit, a live video-link was established with some Palestine refugees in Amman, providing a brief snapshot of their day-to-day world. I believe that this has had the benefit of permitting Conference participants to listen directly to the voices of a few of the refugees we seek to assist.

We have seen during the preparation of this Conference that the situation of the Palestine refugees remains a source of great concern deserving renewed attention from the international community. In fact, over the last decade there has been a constant deterioration in living conditions in the whole of the region, and especially in the West Bank and Gaza since the beginning of the second Intifada in September 2000.

Donor contributions have not matched UNRWA's increasing requirements. These requirements have continued to rise due to the demographic growth of the Palestine refugee population, to the rise in extreme poverty in that population, and to a wider process of deterioration of the political, economic and security conditions in the region. Successive years of under-funding have had a negative effect on UNRWA's service-delivery capacity. Education programmes and health services have both been negatively affected in all five geographical areas of UNRWA's operations. There is therefore an urgent need to provide UNRWA with the necessary means to reverse this trend.

The difficulties faced by the refugees are fortunately not of the same magnitude throughout the Near East As stated in UNRWA's 2003 Annual Report, refugees in Jordan enjoy Jordanian citizenship rights and have access to employment opportunities in both the public and private sectors. In Syria, Palestine refugees have access to government assistance and services while in Lebanon they still face restrictions, which impact negatively on their socio-economic well being.

The situation of greatest concern as regards to Palestine refugees is in the occupied Palestinian territory, where they face the negative impacts of a protracted conflict They are at times exposed to cross-fire, major loss of life, damage to property, and difficulties in gaining access to essential services provided by UNRWA or the Palestinian Authority . This has contributed to a general context of deep economic crisis leading to spiralling levels of poverty for large parts of the population.

Work in the Conference Workshops enabled us to come up with some encouraging approaches and solutions to the challenges faced by the Palestine refugee population. Discussions dealt with major substantive issues. Workshop participants were able to identify key problems facing UNRWA and the Palestine refugees and to analyse many of the critical issues that require urgent attention. The workshops formulated joint recommendations on how to best address those important humanitarian issues in the areas where action is required.

We are grateful to UNRWA Commissioner-General Mr Peter Hansen for his frank and thoughtful keynote address this morning. We also heard excellent oral reports on the deliberations in yesterday's workshops by their respective Chairpersons. In the afternoon we witnessed a rich and lively panel discussion with distinguished participants, putting into perspective the complexity of the challenges the international community is facing In its endeavour to respond to the needs of the Palestine refugees.

I believe that this Conference has clearly demonstrated that partnership is a key element in the humanitarian response to the needs of the Palestine refugees. It is therefore essential to further enhance this partnership between UNRWA, its donors, the host countries, UN agencies and other humanitarian organisations present in the field. While UNRWA is the key actor for Palestine refugees, further strengthening its cooperation with all service providers should be encouraged. The point was made that UNRWA's action would benefit from better integration into the UN system and closer links with its relevant agencies.

Among the many themes we touched upon, the following have been identified as key issues in our deliberations, requiring priority attention and sustained action:

Many participants referred to the generosity of host countries towards Palestine refugees and UNRWA and commented on the generally excellent partnership and collaboration between UNRWA and host countries.

In terms of management issues, several useful suggestions were formulated and addressed to UNRWA among which:

I would like to reiterate here what I said in my opening statement: this Conference is not an end in itself. since it is part of a dynamic process of cooperation and dialogue initiated several years ago between UNRWA, its donors and the host authorities. I am very pleased to note that many participants expressed the desire for a follow-up to this Conference.

We must indeed enhance and sustain our efforts in view of achieving the goals we have set ourselves here today in support of UNRWA's mandate. I am therefore pleased that, tomorrow already, members of the Core Group - composed of representatives of UNRWA donors, host countries, the PLO and UN agencies - who have helped to shape this event, will be meeting here in Geneva to discuss how to ensure a dynamic follow up to our recommendations.

Furthermore, considering that many of our recommendations match and complement the proposals contained in the UNRWA Medium Term Plan that still needs to be discussed with its main stakeholders, I would like to suggest that they be integrated into the Plan and, similarly, be reflected in the Annual Report presented by UNRWA to the UN General Assembly. This will ensure that this Conference's conclusions and recommendations are also brought to the attention of the whole international community.

I would also like to underline that this Conference was convened to send a positive signal of our common and sustained concern for the Palestine refugees at a moment when the peace process shows little prospect of an imminent positive development.

To the Palestine refugees we say: you will not be abandoned. Your active participation here and the level of your delegations sends a strong signal that the international community, along with UNRWA and the host countries, remain determined to continue supporting UNRWA's essential role until a just and lasting solution is found to the question of the Palestine refugees based on UN resolutions. Therefore this Conference also intends to be the starting point of a new humanitarian mobilisation in support of the Palestine refugees.

At this point I would like to take the opportunity to thank UNRWA, its management and staff for their dedicated and courageous work for the Palestine refugees.

Finally, I would like to thank very warmly all those in the region of the Near East and here in Geneva who have played an active part in the preparation and organisation of this Conference. Your contribution has been essential to bringing the Conference to a successful conclusion.

Thank you.

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