Statement by UNRWA Commissioner-General
NBC Donor Conference Preparatory Meeting
Beirut, 9 June 2008
Your Excellencies: colleagues and friends, thank you all for being with us today.
Our intention at this preparatory meeting is to clearly outline the most important issues concerning the reconstruction of Nahr el Bared camp, to clarify any preliminary questions and thus to set the stage for the Vienna donor conference on 23rd June.
The Vienna conference will be an event of critical importance, not only for UNRWA but also for Palestine refugees, the Government and people of Lebanon and the entire region. It presents an opportunity to advance in a concrete, meaningful way, the positive, compassionate approach the Lebanese government is taking to the plight of refugees displaced from Nahr el Bared, and to the Palestine refugee issue as whole. In Vienna, we will have the chance – individually and in concert – to turn the corner towards a more promising era for Lebanon and for Palestine refugees.
Many in the refugee community harbour doubts that Nahr el Bared will ever be reconstructed. This scepticism is based on previous experience. As you know, there were originally sixteen Palestinian camps in Lebanon. Now there are only twelve, because the others were destroyed and never rebuilt.
Nahr el Bared should be – and I believe will be - different. UNRWA is united with the Lebanese government and the refugee community in our determination to reconstruct the camp. We are motivated by the fact that in Lebanon, as elsewhere, Palestine refugees are entitled to fundamental freedoms and to a decent standard of living. We are also driven by a desire to provide further tangible proof of the spirit of cooperation and mutual respect between the Palestinians and Lebanese that emerged when Prime Minister Siniora took office more than two years ago. That spirit is very much alive today. In my meeting with President Suleiman this morning, he confirmed to me, as he did in his inaugural speech in Parliament recently, that he supports the Improvement of living conditions for Palestine refugees, including those in Nahr el Bared. This augurs well for the future and it confirms our shared sense of purpose.
To you, our donors, I cannot emphasize enough how much depends on your generosity and support. The conflict in Nahr el Bared last year left thousands of people without homes and without livelihoods. The humantiarian response thus far would not have been possible without the generous contributions you promptly offered. Reconstruction of the camp will likewise depend on your financial assistance, as well as assistance in the realm of diplomatic backing and technical expertise.
We have a responsibility to help the inhabitants of Nahr el Bared rebuild their lives. We have done our best to provide them with temporary assistance. Now, we must rebuild their homes and communities and set them on the path of improving their lives. Even prior to the destruction of the camp, living conditions in Nahr el Bared were unacceptable, the camp having been a much too densely populated areas. We intend to ensure that Nahr el Bared is rebuilt in a manner that marks a dramatic improvement: better infrastructure, better ventilation, better roads – ultimately an environment that contributes to the stability and prosperity of Lebanon.
The preparatory work has been characterized by unity of purpose and shared dedication among all partners. The technical aspect of the work, the Master Plan for the reconstruction of the camp, benefitted greatly from the input of the Nahr el Bared Reconstruction Commission, a voluntary group of refugees from Nahr el Bared. The cooperation with Ambassador Makkawi and his team has been marked by a similar spirit of partnership and dedication to a common goal. This also describes the cooperation we have enjoyed with the UN Resident Coordinator and the UN Country Team and the Palestine Liberation Organization. We are determined as a team to continue in the same manner, as we begin work on the ground.
It is worth pointing to one striking indication that the reconstruction of Nahr el Bared will help foster a new relationship between the Palestinian community and the Lebanese authorities. The two parties have agreed to cooperate on security in the camp once it is rebuilt, ensuring that security is assured for Palestine refugees – who watched in horror as their camp was taken over by radical elements last year – as well as for the Lebanese community.
I should also mention that I have recently agreed to a proposal by Prime Minister Siniora, under which the Agency will assist the Lebanese Government in the reconstruction work to be undertaken in the area adjacent to Nahr el Bared. This will be a matter of cooperation between the Lebanese authorities, UNRWA and the Palestinian community and we are now working to agree on a mechanism for helping those whose homes were destroyed or badly damaged in this area.
We are under no illusions about the difficulties of the task ahead. Reconstructing Nahr el Bared camp will be the largest single project UNRWA has ever undertaken. It will require a massive effort and is certain to be a long and arduous undertaking with myriad challenges along the way.
Yet, I am confident that with the sustained determination and support of our trusted partners – the government of Lebanon, donor countries, UN agencies, the Palestinian Liberation Organization, refugees and other stakeholders, success will be ours.