Question of Palestine home
17 November 1969
SPECIAL POLITICAL COMMITTEE
VERBATIM RECORD OF THE SIX HUNDRED AND SIXTY-FIFTH MEETING
Held at Headquarters, New York,
on Monday, 17 November 1969, at 10.30 a.m.
United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees
in the Near East
: The Official Record of this meeting, i.e., the summary record, will appear in mimeographed form under the symbol A/SPC/SR.665. Delegations may submit corrections to the summary record for incorporation in the final version which will appear in a printed volume.
AGENDA ITEM 36
UNITED NATIONS RELIEF AND WORKS AGENCY FOR PALESTINE REFUGEES IN THE NEAR EAST (A/7577, A/7614, A/7665; A/SPC/131 and 132)
(a) REPORT OF THE COMMISSIONER-GENERAL
(b) REPORT OF THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
: Today, the Special Political Committee is taking up consideration of the third item on its agenda, the report of the Commissioner-General on the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. As is customary, we will begin our work by hearing a statement by the Commissioner-General, Mr. Michelmore, who will introduce his report to us. I welcome the Commissioner-General's assistance in our work and invite him to take the floor now.
(Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East): Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for your welcome and for giving me this opportunity to introduce the Report of the Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East for the year ending 30 June 1969, which is before you as document A/7614.
In that report we have attempted to describe the work that UNRWA has performed during the period under review, to explain how it has used the funds which have been made available to it, to present a proposed programme of activities and budget estimates for the year ahead, and to call the attention of the General Assembly to the problems which have arisen in carrying out the Agency's mandate.
In the report, we have attempted to emphasize four main points which we believe deserve the attention of the General Assembly:
First, the total needs of the refugees continue to increase -- for relief services, for health protection, and especially for education and training.
Second, it is of the greatest importance that these needs be met, both from the humanitarian standpoint of ensuring the physical survival and health of the refugees and the preparation of the young for a useful future life, and also from the standpoint of avoiding a catastrophic worsening of conditions in the area.
Third, the cost of maintaining these services has risen significantly, and income to finance them has fallen considerably short of what is needed, with a resulting deficit this year, and the threat of a deficit next year that will put the whole programme in jeopardy.
Fourth, the circumstances under which UNRWA operates, which have always presented problems, have become much more difficult as the crisis in the Middle East has deepened and tensions have increased throughout the area.
The months that have passed since the report was drafted have given added emphasis to each of these factors and intensified the difficulties facing the Agency.
The refugee population continues to grow, and the sheer increase in numbers adds to the demands for assistance. There are now over 1,400,000 names on UNRWA's lists of persons who have asked for assistance. This number does not include persons displaced for the first time in 1967; the care of these newly displaced persons has been undertaken almost entirely by the Governments concerned, and UNRWA's assistance has been required only in Jordan, and there only to a limited extent. Of the 1,400,000 registered refugees, some 150,000 are not now receiving any assistance from the Agency, and their names have been put in an "N" or "No service" category. This would correspond to an inactive file in any other relief-giving agency. If UNRWA receives information that any of these persons have died, their names are removed. Some deaths may have occurred of which we have not been informed, and some persons may have moved from the areas where UNRWA was last in touch with them, but as they are not eligible for assistance, their absence has no financial implications.
Excluding this group, or "N" category of 150,000 persons, there are some one and a quarter million persons who are regarded as eligible for some form of UNRWA assistance. We have continued to report that some of the persons listed may not be eligible because of unreported deaths, absences from the area, or income adequate to meet their own needs. In view of the very large number of corrections that have been made in the lists over the years, I believe that the number of ineligible names remaining on the lists is not a large percentage of the total. As there are many thousands of infants and children not yet registered for technical or other reasons, I believe that the figure of one and a quarter million persons eligible for all or some kinds of assistance from UNRWA is a reasonably close approximation to the needy refugee population.
Not all of this number receive all of the services provided by the Agency. So far as relief services are concerned, only two-thirds, or a little over 840,000 persons receive the monthly food ration -- flour, some other dry foods and cooking oil, providing 1,500 calories a day and costing about 4 cents a day. Except for a few months following the hostilities of 1967, when some emergency rations were issued, the number of persons receiving these rations has not exceeded the pre-hostilities level, although the population has increased and so has the degree of need. A ceiling was put on the number of rations to be issued many years ago, and this ceiling is still being observed. Were it not for this ceiling, some 300,000 registered refugee children could ask for rations. Another relief service expanded after the hostilities for certain groups who were believed to be in special need is the provision of ration supplements or of hot meals for children and other vulnerable groups. These increased food services have been trimmed back where this has seemed possible, but they are still above the pre-1967 level, and on the basis of advice from the World Health Organization, the agency regards the maintenance of the present supplementary feeding as highly important if malnutrition is to be avoided.
One of the relief services which has had to be increased very substantially and at great cost is shelter, and the need for this service continues to increase. In the six camps established in east Jordan since 1967, there were 75,000 persons by mid-1968 -- both registered refugees and other displaced persons. The number has now grown to 92,000. Originally protected only by canvas tents, two-thirds of the inhabitants, or a little over 10,000 families, were provided with solid but temporary huts in the course of 1968-early 1969. I am glad to be able to report that additional special contributions have now been received to build similar huts for the remaining 5,200 families in these camps, and this work is proceeding as fast as possible. Thanks also to special contributions to UNRWA from many sources, and to the efforts of a number of non-governmental organizations, many of the other necessities in these camps have now been provided -- roads, paths, storm water drainage, sanitation, health clinics, food distribution centres, school buildings and other facilities. This has been a major achievement and it has saved many lives, but the facilities provided by UNRWA in these emergency camps are still minimal to the extent that, for example, we have not yet succeeded in bringing the number of latrine seats to two per one hundred camp residents, but hope to do so shortly.
In Syria, four new camps for refugees who were displaced again in 1967 sheltered 7,700 persons by mid-1968. The number has now increased to nearly 10,000. Basic facilities have been provided in these camps also, but the inhabitants are still living in tents. Before the winter of 1970, these tents will have to be replaced with new tents, or with huts like those in the Jordan camps. No funds are yet in sight for this purpose.
It must be emphasised that although there is now better protection for the inhabitants of the camps in Jordan and Syria against the threat of epidemics or violent storms, their standard of living is still only at the level of survival or bare subsistence. It is indicative of the need among the rest of the refugee population that many more families, in addition to those now in camps, are expected to ask that they be provided with these facilities.
In the field of health, it has been necessary to increase sanitation services in the camps -- latrines, garbage removal, and the control of fleas, flies and other pests -- and to meet the greater demand for medical services. The number of inoculations for protection against various diseases has been greatly increased. There has also been a substantial increase in the number of persons coming to UNRWA health centres for the treatment of illness. This increase is not due to a higher incidence of disease. On the contrary, for most diseases and in most areas, this incidence has declined. In the case of eye diseases, which have been prevalent in the Middle East, the decline over the last few years has been dramatic. In the last year, there were 6,150,000 visits to UNRWA clinics. The explanation
of the greater demand on UNRWA health services is to be found, I believe, in the increase in population and in the fact that many families who could previously pay for private doctors are no longer able to do so, and now depend on UNRWA's services.
It is in the third major area of UNRWA's programme -- education and training -- that the greatest increase of demand has been felt. When the schools opened in the fall of 1968, a year ago, the number of pupils enrolled was far above that of the previous year, and far above our estimates. Again, when the present school year 1969-1970 began a few weeks ago, the enrolment was much greater than last year, 229,000 as against 209,000, and quite a bit higher than we had anticipated.
Demands for higher level training in UNRWA's teacher training and vocational training centres were also at a record level. Applications for admission were in some centres four or five times the number of places available. Special earmarked contributions have made it possible to expand the physical facilities for vocational and teacher training. Operating costs of these centres are also covered by special earmarked contributions to a considerable extent, but not totally.
The economic condition of the refugees has not improved. Some few groups in some areas may find themselves better off, but many others have lost income and almost all have had to face significant increases in the cost of things they buy. On the basis of all the information available to UNRWA, I feel certain that the total needs of the refugees have steadily mounted since June 1967, and that their capacity to meet their own needs has decreased.
The refugees depend for their survival, for the protection of their health, and for the education and training of their youth, on UNRWA. If a just settlement of the refugee problem could be achieved, as the Security Council proposed as part of the measures included in its resolution 242 of 22 November 1967, presumably other arrangements would eventually be worked out to provide the individuals concerned with these vital services. At present, however, the responsibility rests with UNRWA. From the humanitarian standpoint, it would be catastrophic if these services were stopped, or significantly reduced. In the present atmosphere of tension and stress which exists throughout the areas in which the refugees live, stopping or reducing aid to the refugees could have extremely dangerous consequences, and further complicate and retard efforts to achieve a peaceful and accepted settlement. Events of recent weeks have given even greater emphasis to these implications.
UNRWA can discharge the mandate given to it by the General Assembly and maintain the vital services which it provides to the refugees only if it is given adequate funds and resources. The critical financial position of the Agency was reported to the General Assembly at the twenty-third session by the Commissioner-General, and in very strong terms by the Secretary-General when he spoke to this Committee one year ago. A special report warning that the crisis was drawing nearer was circulated by the Secretary-General in July of this year as document A/7577. The Secretary-General noted his deep concern over the extremely serious deficit facing UNRWA and asked Governments to give the matter urgent attention. He expressed the hope that the General Assembly, at this session, would take urgent and effective action in the future financing of UNRWA. I might add that the Director-General of the World Health Organization has informed all members of that organization of UNRWA's needs, stressing the importance of the health programme, and the Director-General of UNESCO has written to the Foreign Ministers of a number of Governments
to express his concern because of UNESCO's interest in education and training.
In the last few months the outlook has not improved. Additional contributions have been offered by a few Governments and some non-governmental contributors, and I should like to express UNRWA's deep appreciation to them. Unfortunately, these improvements have been offset by a shortfall in income which had been hoped for from other sources. In addition, rising living costs have required the Agency to increase the compensation of some groups of the staff, and it now appears that further increases will be unavoidable if UNRWA, as a United Nations organ, is to maintain its obligation to be a decent employer. UNRWA's salaries and allowances are very modest. Labourers receive little more than $1 a day; and the average for all 13,000 local staff -- more than half of them teachers, nurses and doctors -- is about $100 per month. But even a small increase for each employee has a large total impact. To compensate the staff for the higher living costs that confront them and to keep pace with salaries and allowances paid by Governments in the area would add a very large sum to the budget.
Shortly, perhaps tomorrow, I hope to circulate a paper showing the most recent estimates of expenditure and income for 1969, and revised estimates for 1970. So far as the current year is concerned, some of the increased expenditure -- for shelter construction, for example -- will be matched by contributions to cover these particular items, and thus will not affect the deficit. Some additional expenditures, as for increased staff compensation and increased school enrolment, will add to the deficit. For 1969, the shortfall of income in relation to expenditures, which we had estimated in the annual report at $3.3-$3.8 million, is now expected to be above $4 million. For 1970, for the reasons already mentioned, the estimated cost of maintaining the present programme of activities will have to be increased materially above the figures given in the annual report.
From the beginning of next year, we can no longer draw on reserves from the past, and we shall have to "pay as we go". If we are to continue the present programme in 1970, we shall, somehow, have to secure new income of about $5 million above the level of this year. I feel that I must repeat today, with the greatest possible emphasis, the appeal which the Secretary-General made in July 1969, which was repeated in UNRWA's annual report, that the General Assembly set the Agency's finances on a firmer foundation and assure it of funds adequate to its task.
At the beginning of my remarks, I referred to difficulties confronting UNRWA in conducting its operations under the circumstances which exist in the Middle East. Examples of various kinds of difficulties are given in the report. Throughout its life, UNRWA has been conscious of the delicate relationships that arise when an international agency conducts such sensitive functions as relief assistance, health services and education and training within the areas of sovereign States. UNRWA, as a United Nations organ, has always considered that its activities must be in accordance with the provisions of the United Nations Charter, relevant resolutions of the General Assembly, staff regulations, financial regulations established under United Nations authority and in accordance with United Nations principles, the Convention on Privileges and Immunities and applicable provisions of other international legislation. Questions have arisen in the past in cases where there appeared to be some conflict between UNRWA's operations and the actions of Governments and their officials, based on considerations of security in relation to external or internal factors, or taken in the exercise of other functions which they considered reserved to them. In most instances acceptable solutions were found eventually. As many such problems have implications that extend to the United Nations as a whole, UNRWA has often sought and has been given advice and help by the Secretary-General and his associates.
The circumstances since June 1967 -- two-fifths of the refugees living in areas under military occupation, separated from other areas by the "cease-fire", with mounting tensions and stresses which have been evidenced in the region -- have given rise to an increase in problems of this kind. Security considerations have been given greater emphasis by all the governmental authorities with which UNRWA has to deal; there have been increased restrictions on the movement and activities of UNRWA personnel and the transportation of supplies, which are said to be based on security considerations. To the extent that UNRWA feels obliged to defer to the judgement of governmental authorities in this field, it finds its area of discretion in relation to its own operations, and consequently the effectiveness of these operations, more restricted.
UNRWA is determined, for so long as it is given authority by the General Assembly, to pursue its mandate with all possible vigour and to maintain its services to the fullest extent of its financial capacity, at the same time continuing to observe the constitutional, legislative and treaty provisions which govern it. Within this framework, UNRWA will make every effort to seek solutions to the problems which exist or which may arise in future, in order that assistance to the refugees may be maintained fully. However, should situations arise in which the requirements of Governments and the performance of UNRWA's functions in accordance with its mandate cannot be reconciled, the Commissioner-General would propose to seek the advice of the Secretary-General on the steps which should then be taken.
Members of the Committee may expect me to say something about the press reports of the last few days regarding the situation in the UNRWA camps in Lebanon. I did not intend to make any comments on them at this time, as I had assumed, and still do, that the abnormal situation which has existed in those camps for the last three weeks or so is temporary and that the conditions there would soon change in the direction of the previous
There have been press reports that commandos have taken control of most of the UNRWA camps in Lebanon.
The word camps may be misleading, and may suggest that people are confined in them. This is not so. These camps are like villages, or particular areas within the larger cities. Normally, people can enter or leave the camp areas freely, as they would in any other community.
UNRWA has established and maintains certain facilities in these camp areas -- roads and paths, water supply points, sanitation, health centres, schools, food distribution, supplementary feeding, distribution of kerosene, blankets, and clothing to especially needy families, and in some camps, youth activities centres and women's centres. All of these activities are performed for eligible refugees by UNRWA staff, and UNRWA is completely responsible for these activities. This continues to be true in Lebanon.
Responsibility for other functions rests with the Government -- the maintenance of law and order, the administration of justice, issuing permits for new building construction within the camp areas, and so on. For these purposes, the Government normally posts police or security officers, and a few other governmental staff in each of the camps.
In the last few weeks, armed men have been present in a number of the camps, and the Government's regular police and other staff have been absent. At times, the armed men have exercised control over entry to and departure from the camps. For a few days, UNRWA staff were unable to enter some of the camps, but thereafter they have had access, and UNRWA services have operated in a nearly normal manner. In a few camps, the armed men have occupied one of the UNRWA buildings -- a youth centre, or a women's centre -- perhaps six buildings altogether in the whole of Lebanon. Except for these instances, which have interrupted the activities normally conducted in those premises, UNRWA's activities (and supplies) have not been interfered with. So far as the occupied buildings are concerned, UNRWA has requested the governmental authorities to arrange for their early return to UNRWA's use.
UNRWA is continuing its programme of humanitarian services, and maintains its control over the assistance it provides up to the point where the assistance is received by the intended beneficiaries -- the needy refugees. In the case of two-thirds of UNRWA's programme, it is quite obvious that the assistance is actually received and used by the persons for whom it is intended -- children attending UNRWA schools, students in training centres, persons given medical assistance in the health centres, children drinking milk or eating hot meals provided in supplementary feeding centres. The remaining third of the programme is the distribution of food rations. Here, too, rations which have been previously authorized for the eligible members of each family are placed in the hands of the head of the family, who is required to identify himself as the authorized recipient. I am satisfied that the integrity of these UNRWA operations has been maintained, that UNRWA assistance goes, as it is intended, to needy refugees, and that it is not diverted to other purposes.
As is the case with other United Nations agencies, UNRWA's relationship is with the Government. UNRWA is in consultation with the authorities in Lebanon, with a view to maintaining its humanitarian services and to resolving any difficulties that may exist.
In order to bring attention back to the refugees, and their needs and hardships, which must be our central and principal concern, I would like to repeat the words with which the Secretary-General ended his remarks last year:
"Of all the humanitarian situations with which the United Nations is concerned, the plight of the Palestine refugees should arouse the most active compassion of all the Governments and peoples of the United Nations, for we are dealing here with nothing less than a twenty-year-old tragedy for a group of people who considerably outnumber the whole population of a number of the States which are Members of the United Nations.
"Members may differ on the rights and wrongs of the situation in the Middle East, of which the Palestine refugees are the innocent and long-suffering victims. Efforts may be exerted through the United Nations or outside it, to find solutions to the problems of the Middle East, of which the refugee problem is a major one.
"I believe, however, that everyone will agree that the tragedy of the Palestine refugees, who three times in twenty years have known at first hand the cruel blast of war, demands that the United Nations should live up generously, and without hesitation, to its humanitarian duty towards them. I earnestly hope the action of this Committee collectively, and of its members individually, will allow the United Nations to meet this responsibility to the fullest possible extent."
: I am sure that the Committee will wish me to thank the Commissioner- General most warmly for his statement. Before the Committee embarks upon its general debate on this question I should like to say a few words about the conduct of our work.
I should like first to remind members of the Committee that before the closing date of the twenty-fourth session of the General Assembly only four weeks remain. In view of the fact that the Committee has two more items on its agenda, I should like to suggest a time limit of three weeks for consideration of the present item, leaving one week for the item relating to peace-keeping operations. From now on we expect to schedule two meetings
a day whenever possible, and if necessary, we may hold evening or Saturday meetings.
I should also like to ask for the co-operation of all delegations in reserving the statement in exercise of the right of reply to the close of each meeting, rather than interrupting the orderly flow of speakers inscribed and I should further like to remind members of the Committee that points of order should relate to questions which lie within the competence of the Chairman and the application of the Assembly's rules of procedure.
Before the Committee begins its general debate on the report of the Commissioner- General, I think it would be useful for the Committee to dispose of the procedural point which generally arises in connexion with the consideration of the present item. In document A/SPC/131 members of the Committee have seen the text of a letter addressed to me on 10 November by the representatives of Afghanistan, Indonesia, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. The letter reads as follows:
"We have the honour to request that the Palestine Arab delegation be heard by your honourable Committee during its deliberation of the report of the Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.
"The delegation will address the Committee and make such other statements as may be required. It is composed of the following:
Mr. Issa Nakhleh, Chairman
Mr. Muhey Eddin El Husseini
Mr. Ziad Al Khatib
Mr. Issa Fahel
Mr. Sarkis Nahas."
A second letter of a similar nature is before the Committee in document A/SPC/132 which contains the text of a letter dated 14 November 1969 addressed to me by the representatives of Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Southern Yemen, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Republic and Yemen.
The letter reads as follows:
"We have the honour to request that the delegation of the Palestine Liberation Organization, representing the Arab people of Palestine, the principal party to the Palestine question, be heard by your honourable Committee during its deliberation of item 36.
"The delegation will address the Committee and make such other statements as may be required.
"The delegation is composed of the following:
Mr. Saadat Hasan
Mr. Rashid Hifawi."
It might be useful for me to recall the practice followed by this Committee at previous sessions. In 1965, when there was a similar request that the same organization be heard, the Committee decided at its 435th meeting on 20 October 1965 "to authorize the persons constituting the said delegation to speak in this Committee and to make such statements as they may deem necessary, without such authorization implying recognition of the above-mentioned organization". That formula was set out in document A/SPC/L.112.
The Committee has followed the same procedure in respect of similar requests rendered in the course of the consideration of this item at the twenty-first, twenty-second and twenty-third sessions of the General Assembly. The most recent decision was taken at the 616th meeting on 18 November 1968.
In the light of the established practice in connexion with such requests for hearings, I would suggest that the Committee follow the same procedure this year with respect to the requests from four and fourteen delegations which I have just read out, without such authorization implying recognition of the above-mentioned organization.
Is there any objection to proceeding as I have indicated?
(Israel): As you intend to follow in this matter the same procedure as in previous years, I should like, as in the past, to put on record that my delegation reserves its position on this question.
: As there are no objections, I shall take it that the Committee approves the procedure I have just outlined.
It was so decided