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Source: Department of Public Information (DPI)
General Assembly
3 December 2014

General Assembly

        Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Ad Hoc Committee for Voluntary Contributions to UNRWA
1st Meeting (AM)

Plagued by Chronic Underfunding, Palestine Refugee Relief Agency
Welcomes Pledges to Weather Challenges, Sustain Operations

Twenty six donors today announced contributions, or their intention to contribute, to the 2015 budget of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), as officials estimated that the chronically underfunded Agency would begin the year facing a $35 million deficit.

The voluntary contributions were made during a meeting of the Agency’s Ad Hoc Committee, which was established by the General Assembly as the primary forum for announcing financial support. UNRWA assists some 5 million Palestinian refugees across its five fields of operation in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Margot Ellis, UNRWA Deputy Commissioner-General, said today’s meeting was of vital importance for Palestinian refugees who were living in a “65-year limbo”. The occupation of Palestine continued to scar psyches, with spikes of violence in Gaza and a slow suffocation of life in the West Bank, making Palestinian refugees “case studies” of prolonged tragedy. At the same time, they were emblematic of hope and the Agency’s work was an important entry point for building the future. “Your contributions to UNRWA make this possible,” she said.

Surveying the Agency’s fields of operation, she said “extraordinary vulnerability” pervaded Palestinian communities. In Syria, more than 60 per cent of the 560,000 Palestinian refugees were displaced, having lost investments in homes and businesses nurtured over generations. Some 18,000 people were trapped in the Yarmouk camp alone. Among the 12 camps in Syria, Khan Eshieh and Dera’a had been theatres of warfare for months, while Ein Al-Tal was emptied by force in a single day.

In the West Bank, Israeli occupation had alienated Palestinians from land and livelihoods, she said, noting that East Jerusalem was home to 300,000 Palestinians — 15,000 of whom had lost their residency rights in the last decade owing to settlement expansion.

Almost daily, she said, Palestinians and Israelis translated their anger into deadly actions. In the West Bank, 356 Palestinian had been injured in one week in November, compared to a weekly average of 72 in 2013. In 2014, 18 Palestinian refugees had been killed by Israeli forces in the area. In Gaza, 2,200 Palestinians had been killed in 50 days over the summer — 46 of them in UNRWA shelters. Eleven UNRWA colleagues also had lost their lives. More than 120,000 homes had been damaged or destroyed and 25,000 internally displaced persons were still sheltering in UNRWA schools.

While the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism, supervised by the United Nations, should enable the import of private-sector construction material, she said it could not substitute for the lifting of the blockade. Without that and other structural improvements, poverty, vulnerability and oppression would persist. Investing in financial integrity for UNRWA and ensuring transparency were critical to its ability to work under “extraordinarily challenging” financial constraints.

For its part, UNRWA sought to create more predictable and diverse funding sources, she said, noting that the deepening of its donor relationships had been evident during “fertile” discussions to draft its five-year medium-term strategy. The Agency’s resource mobilization had expanded to new regions and countries, with increasing engagements in Latin America and Asia. Recent pledges by Saudi Arabia amounting to $77 million had made the country the Agency’s third-largest donor, with increases also seen in private-sector income, from $7.4 million in 2013 to $27.8 million in 2014.

For 2015, a core budget of $654.5 million had been developed, she said — a 3 per cent increase — for basic services such as education, health and relief and social services.

In 2014, she reported, UNRWA had cut spending that did not directly support core delivery, leaving “no fat” in the budget. “We’re starting to cut muscle,” she said, stressing that austerity measures had compromised repair and maintenance, information and communication technologies, infrastructure and staff retention — amid increased demand. Stretched over several years, the lack of “support” investments would take a toll. The Agency still confronted a $35 million deficit and had suspended payments to creditors.

“Short-term cost-saving measures erode long-term and hard-won development gains,” she cautioned, leaving fertile ground for unrest. Service disruption or the perception that the international community was losing interest in UNRWA — and the people it served — would be a dangerous liability. Maintaining UNRWA services was an imperative of humanitarian, strategic and political importance.

At the meeting’s outset, Gréta Gunnarsdóttir (Iceland), General Assembly Vice-President, echoed those calls, stressing that funding for the Agency’s emergency activities had decreased, while contributions for its core activities — funded primarily from voluntary contributions — had not kept pace with the population’s needs. UNRWA needed both political and financial support to provide adequate assistance. She invited Member States and donors to fully fund the Agency’s core budget, urging new donors to find ways to support the work of UNRWA.

“We must all join together to ensure UNRWA has the necessary resources to carry out its imperative work in support of Palestine refugees,” she stressed.


The following countries made confirmed pledges in the following amounts: United States ($100 million), Switzerland ($17.8 million), Kuwait ($2 million), United Arab Emirates ($1.8 million), Turkey ($1.275 million), Republic of Korea ($187,000), Malaysia, ($100,000), Indonesia ($100,000), Bahrain ($50,000), Thailand ($40,000), Netherlands (€13 million), Luxembourg (€3.75 million) and Germany (€8 million).

The following delegations indicated pledges pending approval: United Kingdom ($166 million over five years), India ($1 million), European Union (€246 million over three years), Belgium (€6 million) and Austria (€1.05 million).

Further support for UNRWA was expressed by the representatives of Bulgaria, Italy, Sweden, Pakistan, Spain, China, Norway and Greece, with no specific pledges announced.

Following those interventions, Feda Abdelhady-Nasser, Observer of the State of Palestine, said that through its programmes and services, UNRWA had promoted the well-being of Palestinian refugees since its 1950 establishment, enabling them to persevere under harsh conditions of exile and occupation. She expressed gratitude for the contributions from Governments, inter-governmental organizations, institutions and the private sector, as well as for the reaffirmations of political commitment to upholding the Agency’s legal and moral responsibilities. Recognizing the importance of all contributions made to alleviating the Agency’s funding deficit, she called for intensifying efforts to achieve a just, lasting comprehensive peaceful settlement to the question of Palestine.

Deputy Commissioner-General Ellis, then, made a closing statement, and thanked delegations for their pledges.

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For information media • not an official record

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