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Source: United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA)
4 October 2007

Commissioner General’s statement

Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and JICA joint Meeting

Thank you all for coming. My visit to Tokyo is an opportunity to convey messages from Palestine refugees whose humanitarian and human development needs are UNRWA’s responsibility. My Agency operates in an increasingly difficult operational environment in which refugee needs and the demands on our services are on the rise. Given the magnitude of the challenges we face, we place a premium on our relationships with donors and other stakeholders. My presence in Tokyo today is evidence of the high value we attach to our partnership with Japan.

In 2005, Japan contributed $30 million to UNRWA and was the Agency’s fifth largest donor. It is now eleventh on the list of our donors, with current contributions at $11.4 million dollars. We have recently received from Japan a significant donation of 4.2 million dollars for our regular food aid program; 700,000 dollars to our Flash Appeal for Lebanon; and a further contribution for a major re-housing project in Khan Younis. Japan has supported UNRWA projects in a variety of sectors such as education (school construction as well as scholarships), health, shelter and relief services. This country’s contributions to the United Nations Trust Fund for Human Security have enabled UNRWA and other UN agencies to provide psycho-social counseling and remedial education to refugees in the West Bank, and to construct much-needed social infrastructure in Gaza.

My Agency and the Palestine refugees we serve are very appreciative of the support we receive from the government and people of Japan. The help that you give us is important to our work and to Palestine refugees. In the human security concept, which you have pioneered, we find an excellent match with the combined humanitarian and human development approach that UNRWA employs. Human security gives a powerful impetus to our view that Palestinians are best served by a holistic, integrated approach to all their needs. It also confirms our understanding that the human needs of Palestinians deserve to be given equal priority with security and military questions. At the same time, the human security paradigm is a constant reminder that there are increasing threats to the quality and sustainability of refugee lives and livelihoods. In the face of these threats, the demand for UNRWA’s services is growing ever larger.

In Jordan and Syria, where Palestine refugees face less dramatic circumstances than elsewhere in the region, there is much room for enhancing refugees’ standard of living, expanding their possibilities for economic self-reliance and for improving the quality of our services. In Lebanon, our attention is focused on assisting over 30,000 refugees displaced by the fighting in Nahr el-Bared camp this past summer. On the 10th of September, we launched a 55 million dollar emergency appeal to support our requirements over the next twelve months. A preliminary safety assessment indicates that in an area of Nahr el-Bared we call the "new camp" about 65 percent of houses are war-damaged. This is not as bad as we first thought. While we are yet to assess the damage in the part of Nahr el-Bared known as the "old camp", indications are that the destruction was similar to or worse than the "new camp" sustained. It is clear that the reconstruction effort and the return of displaced refugees will require a significant injection of donor funds over a considerable period of time.

The situation facing Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territory is cause for very grave concern. They live with the constant threat of armed conflict. They suffer from movement restrictions and they endure abysmal economic and material conditions. Gaza languishes in the grip of poverty and unemployment. 80 percent of Gazans receive some form of humanitarian aid, and in some areas, food insecurity is as high as 77 percent. Since June, with a few exceptions, Palestinians and commercial goods have not been allowed to enter or to leave Gaza. The direct result is an economy that is moving closer to a condition of terminal decline. Many Gazans cannot support their families because with the borders closes and the economy stagnant, there is little income from farming, trading or other work. One example of the impact on our work is that UNRWA programmes worth 93 million are suspended as a result of this closure. Against this background the recent threat of even tighter restrictions is extremely worrying.

In the West Bank as in Gaza, poverty and unemployment are at high levels. Rigid closures imposed by the occupying power constrict the movement of Palestinian people and goods. The separation barrier and its associated regime of checkpoints and administrative obstacles mean that families are split and Palestinians cannot freely access schools, hospitals, land, water and places of worship. Palestinian living space is shrinking as Palestinian land is taken away by some 450,000 Israeli settlers, by the separation barrier and by a multiplicity of outposts, military bases, restricted military areas and roads built exclusively for the use of settlers. Military incursions and arbitrary arrests are frequent in the context of an armed conflict between occupying forces and armed Palestinians, with civilians often caught between.

This is the challenging operational context in which UNRWA strives to maintain its programmes at a high level of quality in the face of escalating refugee needs. We cannot satisfactorily meet the demands in our present financial situation. UNRWA is experiencing a shortfall of over 100 million dollars in our regular budget, while our 246 million dollar Emergency Appeal for the West Bank and Gaza is only half funded.

We are encouraged that several of our donors have responded to our call more liberal funding. From 2001 to the present, the European Commission’s contributions have increased by 15 percent, Sweden’s by 40 percent, and Norway’s and Canada’s by 50 percent each. We take these increases as evidence that our donors recognize the urgency of Palestine refugee needs and acknowledge the worth of UNRWA’s role as a reliable human development partner. I am confident that the government of Japan’s recognizes the value of our work and will in due course demonstrate an enhanced level of generosity to UNRWA.

I will conclude with a plea to our donors and other international actors to do everything possible to ease the suffering of Palestinians and to hasten a just and lasting solution to the plight of Palestine refugees. Next year, we will mark the sixtieth anniversary of Palestinian exile. This will hardly be an occasion in which the international community can take pride. Palestinians – refugees and non-refugees alike – have endured too much privation and too many human rights abuses in the name of security. It is time that more was done to ensure their protection under international law.

The restrictions on Palestinian movement in the West Bank should be removed and the segregation of Gaza ended. The virtual sealing of Gaza’s borders and the consequent hardship and economic collapse do not serve the interests of the international community or advance the prospects for peace. The isolation of Gaza causes needless human suffering and negates the work of UNRWA and other humanitarian agencies. Ultimately, a policy of isolation serves only to strengthen the hand of extremist groups.

Much more should be done to foster re-conciliation between Palestinians and to cultivate by peaceful means the forces of moderation and compromise that exist within the Palestinian community. Peace by peaceful, inclusive means should be the path towards the re-establishment of a credible peace process – a process which is inclusive and which gives priority to the interests and needs of ordinary Palestinians.

In this regard, the concept of a corridor for peace and prosperity strikes all the right chords. It deserves support and encouragement. The experience in Gaza and the West Bank demonstrates that poverty is the antithesis of social and political harmony. By the same token, strengthening economic fundamentals could create a climate in which peace can thrive, bearing in mind that a sound economy will be critical to the viability of a future Palestinian State. The concept recognizes the importance of nurturing trust and confidence between the parties by emphasizing the common interests that bind them. From our experience with Palestine refugees over the decades, we at UNRWA can confirm that trust and confidence are prerequisites for peace.

I will conclude by encouraging the government of Japan to continue exercising its considerable leverage in the cause of peace and in support of the Palestinian quest for statehood. There are many possibilities for Japan’s enhanced role as a sponsor of projects to advance human security; as an initiator of creative economic programmes; and as an security; as an advocate for peaceful methods, and as a voice of reason and moderation in addressing the complexities of Israeli-Palestinian issues.

There is much to accomplish in the months and years ahead. I believe that the full potential of our collective efforts is yet to be reached. My Agency and I Iook forward to working in partnership with JICA and with the government of Japan, to achieve the fullness of our united potential for the benefit of Palestine refugees.

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