A spectacular show of music and poetry with the legendary Lebanese musician Marcel Khalife and the Al-Mayadine Ensemble was enjoyed by hundreds of people and many UN staff in Vienna as part of an ongoing series of events around the world to mark the 60th anniversary of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) this week. The ‘Concert for Peace and Humanity’ organized by the Society for Austro-Arab Relations and sponsored by the Austrian Government and the OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID) had many of the audience joining in with the performers to some well-known Marcel Khalife songs.
The spectacle was held under the patronage of the Austrian Federal President Heinz Fischer and the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon who addressed the audience through a video message in which he spoke about the plight of the Palestine Refugees and the role of UNRWA to support them:
"When UNRWA was established in 1949, no one anticipated that its humanitarian and human development work would be needed for this long.
But, until there is a final settlement of the conflict, I am confident that UNRWA will continue to be a source of strength and support for millions of Palestinian refugees." Mr. Ban also paid tribute to the musician, Marcel Khalife for using his musical gifts to cross the boundaries of faith, race and social class. "They remind us of our shared humanity as well as our shared responsibility to build a better world," the UN Secretary-General said.
The memorable evening held in Vienna’s famous City Hall was also attended by the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of the Palestinian Authority and the Commissioner–General of UNRWA, Karen Koning AbuZayd. At the concert UNRWA and OFID announced the establishment of a new Scholarship Fund for Talented Palestinians which will provide higher education opportunities to Palestinian students from the West Bank, Gaza Strip and refugee camps in neighbouring countries.
Cooperation between UNRWA and OFID extends over several years and at a ceremony the following day (1 July 2009) the OFID pledged an additional 3 million dollars to the OFID Micro Enterprises for Palestine Fund (PALFUND) as well as one million dollars to the Scholarship Fund.
The events in Vienna are part of a series worldwide to commemorate the sixtieth anniversary of the establishment of UNRWA, following the 1948 Middle East war. The anniversary is an occasion for sober reflection on why an agency which was created by the international community to be ‘temporary’ is now marking its sixtieth anniversary. Over the last 60 years UNRWA has fed, housed and clothed tens of thousands of refugees and at the same time educated and offered health care to hundreds of thousands of young refugees. Today UNRWA is the main provider of basis services – education, health, relief and social services to over 4.6 million registered Palestine refugees in the Middle East.