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UNRWA’s Advisory Commission, which with the accession of Kuwait in 2011, comprises representatives of 24 Member States and three observer delegations, endorsed a draft of the report at its June 2011 session. The views of the Commission are contained in the attached letter addressed to me by its Chair. I continue to value the Commission’s constructive engagement and its ever-helpful advice. In accordance with usual practice, I have also shared a draft of the report with representatives of the Government of Israel.
I take this opportunity to briefly update the General Assembly on developments in 2011. In the Gaza Strip, the situation remains dire. Very high unemployment and poverty rates persist and there is little hope of a significant improvement while the blockade remains in force. Against this backdrop, however, the UNRWA reconstruction programme was bolstered by the approval in June 2011, by the Government of Israel, of the importation into the Gaza Strip of construction materials for 20 UNRWA projects. This brings to 73 the total number of projects approved by the Israeli authorities since the easing of the blockade in June 2010. The blockade, however, remains the core obstacle to an economic recovery that the Gaza Strip desperately needs; lifting it is a priority for the United Nations.
The situation in the West Bank and East Jerusalem is no less worrisome. Many Palestinians continue to suffer major restrictions on movement, residence and other fundamental freedoms, while Israeli settlements expand with each passing month. In addition to its regular work, UNRWA is supporting in particular some of the most vulnerable and marginalized refugee communities, including those directly affected by the West Bank barrier and Bedouin communities whose meagre economic assets and means of livelihood are subject to demolitions on a recurring basis. In East Jerusalem, UNRWA is rehabilitating and expanding its schools to improve educational performance and equip the next generation of Palestinian refugee students with the skills they need in their quest to seize opportunities and achieve a decent standard of living.
In the Syrian Arab Republic, the Agency is facing very difficult challenges. The outbreak of protests in March 2011 and the response of Government security forces has affected UNRWA services in and around a number of refugee camps, where school enrolment, assistance to the most vulnerable and microfinance lending have been curtailed. As at June 2011, areas hosting the refugees had been spared the worst of the unrest. However, the Agency is concerned that refugee communities may become more directly affected and that it may be unable to continue providing services and ensure refugee well-being, should conditions worsen. UNRWA has communicated its concerns to the Syrian authorities and calls upon all parties to respect and protect the sanctity of human life as required by international law.
In Lebanon, the formation of a new Government in July 2011 was a welcome development, following a lengthy transition that impeded progress on key refugee issues such as the implementation of 2010 legislation granting refugees access to a range of professions. With refugee frustration mounting over poor living conditions and limited access to health care, UNRWA is hopeful that it will receive the support necessary to address the various challenges.
The refugee situation remains stable in Jordan, where the Government has addressed growing discontent with a range of measures in 2011, including an increase in the salaries of public sector employees. Because wages of UNRWA local staff are calibrated with public sector salaries, the financial impact on UNRWA is considerable. UNRWA is also contending with public sector salary increases in other fields of its operations, making management of our General Fund deficit in 2011, projected at $63 million as at June, more difficult and more urgent.
Further progress was made in 2011 in developing the UNRWA sustaining change plan, which builds on the 2006-2009 organizational development process and aims to complete our institutional transformation over the next two bienniums. The plan outline, enriched by consultations with donors and hosts, was finalized in May. The sustaining change plan aims to invigorate our programmes, ensuring quality and effectiveness are improved where needed most, in our overcrowded schools, clinics and camp service centres.
The challenges facing UNRWA are even greater because of the profound changes sweeping the region and the continuing uncertainty about the future that plagues Palestine refugee communities. Amidst instability, the certainty of support by the international community remains a pillar of hope for the refugees, who turn to UNRWA in growing numbers for basic services essential to their human development. The well-being of the refugees, and ensuring the effectiveness of UNRWA in contributing to it, remain a shared commitment of the international community pending a just and durable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in all its aspects, including the refugee question.
At its regular session held at the Dead Sea on 22 June 2011, the Advisory Commission of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) considered the draft annual report on the activities and operations of UNRWA, covering the period from 1 January to 31 December 2010, to be submitted to the General Assembly at its forthcoming sixty-sixth session.
The Commission commends UNRWA for its efforts to continue delivering its programmes and services to Palestine refugees in its fields of operation and underlines the vital role of UNRWA in contributing to regional stability until a just solution is reached, in accordance with relevant United Nations resolutions (General Assembly resolutions 194 (III) and 302 (IV)).
The Commission is gravely concerned about the loss of life in 2010. The restrictions on access, notably in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, together with periods of violence, disproportionately affect the refugees, leading to even greater demand for UNRWA services. The Commission urges that access be permitted for all goods necessary for the Agency to carry out its humanitarian and human development activities. The Commission expresses deep concern regarding attacks and threats against UNRWA staff and facilities by all parties.
The Commission notes with deep concern that the separation barrier, closures, curfews and other restrictions on movement imposed by the Israeli authorities in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip have led to further hardship for the affected population. These restrictions, including those with respect to East Jerusalem, continue to hinder economic development, specifically access to sources of employment and essential goods and services, and the ability of UNRWA to carry out its mandated tasks. The Commission calls for the removal of all Israeli restrictions regarding the movement of UNRWA staff and goods in accordance with the November 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access concluded between the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority and the 1967 Comay-Michelmore agreement between UNRWA and the Government of Israel.
The Commission calls on all parties to fully respect United Nations resolutions and international law, including international humanitarian law.
The Commission remains concerned about the lack of Agency access to, and information on, its staff detained by relevant authorities.
The Commission welcomes progress on the issue of the right of Palestine refugees to work in Lebanon; this is a positive first step in helping refugees in Lebanon to expand their opportunities and improve their living conditions without prejudice to other rights they enjoy as refugees.
The Commission restates its view that the enduring hardships of Palestine refugees underline the critical role of UNRWA. It remains concerned, as stated in previous years, about the long-term structural underfunding of the Agency, which has had an impact on service delivery. The Commission acknowledges and greatly appreciates the long-term support of major donors for UNRWA operations. It urges the international donor community as a whole to mobilize the resources needed, in particular for the Agency’s General Fund, to secure proper service delivery. At the same time, the Commission recognizes the efforts being made to incorporate greater efficiencies into programming and to broaden the donor base. It encourages UNRWA to intensify these efforts.
UNRWA’s emergency appeal for $323 million for the occupied Palestinian territory in 2010 received $162.5 million or around 50 per cent. The Commission is concerned about the sharp decline in funding between 2009 and 2010 and calls on donors to redouble their efforts in this area.
The Commission notes the urgent need for full support for the rebuilding of Nahr El-Bared camp and for relief assistance to those displaced following its destruction in 2007. The Commission urges its members and others to support the UNRWA appeal for the reconstruction of the camp and the support of displaced refugees living in neighbouring communities and to honour the pledges made at the International Donor Conference held in Vienna in 2008.
The Commission emphasizes its ongoing support for sustaining the momentum of change within UNRWA with the aim of improving its effectiveness in delivering services to refugees in cooperation with host countries. The Commission urges UNRWA to hold further consultations with its stakeholders in preparing the sustaining change plan and the reforms of the programmatic activities of UNRWA that are at the core of the plan. The Commission also welcomes the medium-term strategy for 2010-2015, the introduction of field and headquarters implementation plans and reforms of the Agency’s programmatic activities.
The Commission highly commends the support by host countries, host authorities and donors to the work and activities of UNRWA.
1. In 2010, the political, economic and security conditions varied in each of the UNRWA five areas of operation, with distinct impact on the refugees that UNRWA serves. The relatively stable conditions in Jordan and the Syrian Arab Republic allowed UNRWA to pursue its core human development activities, within the Agency’s financial constraints. Conflict, violence and political uncertainty in the occupied Palestinian territory, and to a lesser degree in Lebanon, increased hardship for the refugees as well as challenges for the Agency. In all fields, the refugees, who suffer the historic effects of their displacement and dispossession, had to contend with the impact of the global economic downturn and the persistent gap between their basic needs and the Agency’s ability to respond with the entire complement of human development opportunities to which they are entitled.
2. The situation in the occupied Palestinian territory was characterized by a continuing political impasse, conflict and restrictions on rights and opportunities for Palestinians, including refugees. In the context of a military occupation now more than four decades old, policies and practices, including house demolitions, movement restrictions, and the blockade of the Gaza Strip, contributed directly to the decade-long chronic humanitarian situation. In 2010, 87 Palestinians, including 9 children, were killed in the occupied Palestinian territory, and another 1,543, including 360 children, were injured in conflict-related violence. 1 A number of these deaths and injuries, reportedly including civilians, occurred in the context of a restricted zone within the Gaza Strip along the perimeter with Israel. Clashes during protests in the West Bank over settlements and the route of the barrier also contributed to Palestinian casualties during the reporting period.
3. Despite some signs of economic improvement in parts of the occupied Palestinian territory, years of conflict, limited freedom of movement, as well as the blockade of the Gaza Strip, continued to be reflected in the dire economic situation of Palestine refugees. Using the narrow definition of the International Labour Organization, the unemployment rate among refugees stood at 29.4 per cent halfway through 2010, as compared with 20.1 per cent for non-refugees. Extreme poverty continued to grow in the Gaza Strip, with nearly 300,000 refugees identified by UNRWA as the abject poor at the end of 2010, compared with approximately 100,000 when the blockade commenced in 2007. In the West Bank, UNRWA found food insecurity levels of 21 per cent of 93,000 refugee families surveyed. A further 27 per cent were vulnerable, just barely able to make basic food purchases. 2
4. On 31 May, tragic events occurred in international waters. On 20 June, the Government of Israel announced its decision to ease the blockade by improving access for a variety of consumer goods and some construction materials for a number of internationally funded and supervised projects. These projects are essential for the rehabilitation and expansion of the Agency’s education, health and sewage infrastructure, as well as rehousing for refugees who have lost their shelters and are living in unacceptable conditions. By the end of the reporting period, materials required by UNRWA to complete a total of 27 projects valued at
$44 million had been approved by the Government of Israel for import into the Gaza Strip. As a result, for the first time since the blockade was imposed following the takeover by Hamas in June 2007, UNRWA was able to complete suspended projects for its beneficiaries. However, Agency operations continued to be impeded by a lengthy project approval process, delays in coordination of approved materials into the Gaza Strip and cumbersome procedures at the crossings. Moreover, the overall situation of the civilian population continued to be characterized by impoverishment during 2010. While recognizing Israel’s legitimate security concerns, UNRWA joined the Secretary-General of the United Nations and the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process in urging the Government of Israel to lift the blockade and permit normal trade to resume, enabling an urgently needed process of social and economic recovery to take place.
5. The reporting period saw some improvements in conditions in parts of the West Bank, including overall estimated gross domestic product (GDP) growth of
8 per cent, following a contraction that averaged 2.7 per cent per year between 1999 and 2009. 3 The improvements followed the easing of closures between Palestinian communities on the eastern side of the West Bank barrier and large inflows of aid to the Palestinian Authority. Economic conditions, particularly in urban centres of the West Bank, improved following a reduction in restrictions on movement and a reduction in physical barriers from 573 to 512. However, Palestinians residing in the West Bank, including Area C, those residing between the barrier and the Green Line, and those in East Jerusalem, continued to be subject to tight restrictions on their movement and access and, in certain instances, subjected to house demolitions, repeated displacement and increasing incidents of settler violence. In East Jerusalem, evictions, demolitions and revocations of residency continued, undermining the already frail human security of Palestinians in the city. Palestine refugees residing in the West Bank remained especially vulnerable to these developments.
6. Of further concern in 2010, the Government of Israel announced plans to transfer supervision of the main crossing points between Jerusalem and the West Bank to a Crossing Points Administration, accompanied by restrictions that would adversely affect United Nations operations in the West Bank, including through increased operating costs. At the end of the reporting period, based on the information available to it regarding the plans, UNRWA estimated that it could lose up to 1,300 staff days per month if the planned restrictions were implemented. Discussions were ongoing between the United Nations and the Government of Israel about the implementation of the plans.
7. In Lebanon, there was progress on the issue of Palestine refugees’ right to work when amendments to the Lebanese Labour Code and Social Security Law were adopted by the Parliament in August 2010. These amendments are a positive first step in helping refugees in Lebanon expand their opportunities and improve their living conditions, without prejudice to other rights they enjoy as refugees. While there was no impact on unemployment during the reporting period, the implementation of the amendments was expected to have a positive effect on the socio-economic conditions of the refugees and provide a measure of dignity through work. The Special Tribunal for Lebanon continued to be a contested issue, bringing the national unity government to a standstill at the end of the year. Meanwhile, tensions remained high on Lebanon’s southern border with Israel during most of 2010, and in early August three Lebanese soldiers, a Lebanese journalist and an Israeli army officer were killed in an exchange of fire.
8. In Jordan and the Syrian Arab Republic, the Palestine refugees continued to be afforded a wide range of rights and opportunities during the reporting period. Jordan held elections in November 2010, following amendments to the Election Law. There were also peaceful demonstrations against high unemployment and consumer price increases during the latter months of the year.
B. Operational developments
9. Across its five fields, UNRWA promotes human development of the refugees in the areas of education, health, relief, social services, infrastructure and camp improvement, and microfinance. In addition, UNRWA provides humanitarian assistance to refugees affected by emergencies. Since September 2000 it has responded on a large scale to emergencies in the occupied Palestinian territory and in Lebanon, contributing to the protection of refugees at risk in the context of armed conflict. This assistance, however, does not meet all basic needs of the affected refugees. During the reporting period, the Agency continued its emergency operations in the occupied Palestinian territory, under an emergency appeal for $332 million. By the end of the year donors had funded $162.6 million, or around 50 per cent, of the appeal.
10. In the Gaza Strip in 2010, around 650,000 refugees received emergency food from UNRWA. All of the more than 200,000 pupils in UNRWA Gaza schools received a meal under the school feeding programme. The Agency also provided temporary job opportunities to 42,685 beneficiaries. The package of targeted emergency programmes also included the provision of health-care services and the rehabilitation of shelters and water and sanitation infrastructure. Against the backdrop of the blockade, the overarching protection concern in the Gaza Strip continued to be the lack of access for goods and people and its impact on the basic living conditions and enjoyment of human rights of the population.
11. A highlight of UNRWA’s year in the occupied Palestinian territory was the Agency’s Summer Games for Gaza’s children. Over a six-week period, 250,000 children took part in sporting, recreational and cultural activities in a structured programme and on a scale otherwise unavailable to them in the Gaza Strip, and in the process captured two world records in the number of basketballs bounced and kites flown simultaneously. On two occasions, Summer Games facilities were damaged in pre-dawn attacks by armed Palestinian militants. In addition, as part of its human rights programme, UNRWA organized six human rights trips for children from the Gaza Strip, in which 72 of its highest achieving human rights students travelled to the United States of America, the Netherlands, Norway and South Africa to learn about the history, human rights struggles, local culture and traditions in each of these countries.
12. In the West Bank, during 2010, the Agency provided emergency food aid to about 27,204 families and supported an estimated 76,634 refugees with temporary employment. Special focus was given to threatened communities in high-risk areas — East Jerusalem, Area C, the so-called “Seam Zone”, and refugee camps — where forced displacement and dispossession remained of concern. UNRWA, along with the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, continued to call on the Israeli authorities to stop demolitions and evictions of Palestinians from their homes, in particular in East Jerusalem. UNRWA also drew attention to the need for Israeli authorities to ensure non-discriminatory access by Palestinians to construction and planning processes. In this regard, the fate of the Bedouin refugee community of some 30,000 families living in Area C, as well as the livestock, on which it depends for its livelihood, was of particular concern owing to the lack of safe and free access to rangeland and natural water resources. Two strikes by UNRWA area staff in the West Bank, the first lasting 5 days in June and the second lasting 21 days in October and November, seriously disrupted operations.
13. In northern Lebanon, the reconstruction of Nahr el-Bared refugee camp continued, however, funding shortfalls and a difficult operating environment posed a challenge to progress with relief and reconstruction and prolonged hardships for the 27,000 refugees displaced from the camp since 2007. As at end-December 2010, pledges amounting to $11.3 million had been received against an appeal for $18.5 million to meet basic needs of the displaced refugees awaiting reconstruction of the camp. The Agency’s parallel appeal to reconstruct the camp was also under-funded, with pledges amounting to $122.5 million received against the $328.4 million appeal as at the end of the reporting period.
14. UNRWA and the American University of Beirut jointly managed a socio-economic study of Palestine refugees, the first such multidisciplinary and comprehensive poverty survey of Palestine refugees undertaken in Lebanon. The survey provided data on demographics, poverty levels, employment, food security, health and education status, access to public services, assets and living conditions of resident Palestine refugees. The data is being used to improve the Agency’s targeting of assistance and protection for Palestine refugees in Lebanon.
15. The security of UNRWA staff remained of serious concern, in particular threats and attacks on locally recruited staff while delivering services. UNRWA is indebted to its staff and acknowledges their dedication and loyalty and the need to take further steps to address their security. Those working in areas of conflict are particularly commended. The Agency notes with regret that the local employees of UNRWA are the only United Nations staff members in the area who do not receive hazard pay and reiterates its calls for this to be addressed.
C. Organizational developments
16. On 19 January 2010, Karen AbuZayd completed her tenure as the UNRWA Commissioner-General, concluding 10 years of service to the Agency. Her successor, Filippo Grandi, was appointed by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, effective 20 January 2010.
17. During 2010, the Agency continued pursuing its reform agenda to modernize management systems and improve the quality of services provided to the refugees. Building on the achievements of the three-year organizational development (OD) process, which concluded in 2009, UNRWA prepared a “Sustaining Change” plan during 2010 with a focus on enhancing programme effectiveness over the period 2010-2012.
18. In preparing the draft “Sustaining Change” plan in 2010, UNRWA worked with stakeholders to develop strategies based largely on independent programme reviews undertaken in 2009. Major components of the plan include a shift from rote learning to student-focused education, better targeting of the most vulnerable, and development of health- and education-management information systems. The plan, which also aims to strengthen the Agency’s resource mobilization capacity, will be developed in stages, with education and health reforms first in line.
19. Further progress was made by the Agency in developing its information management tools in 2010. A centralized online Refugee Registration Information System (RRIS) was extended to all fields, replacing an outdated system, significantly improving the efficiency of the registration process and greatly enhancing the Agency’s ability to collect demographic data essential to programme planning and targeting of services. New family registration cards were issued to Palestine refugees through this new system, which assigns individual registration numbers to all family members. The implementation of the Refugee Registration Information System saw the close of phase I of the Palestine Refugee Records Project.
20. The Human Resources Department took steps to improve the efficiency of administrative processes, including through the creation of online staff leave and electronic performance management systems. Under its classification, compensation and performance management system for its area staff, UNRWA in 2010 completed a comprehensive, comparative review of the grading and compensation structure within the Agency.
21. The Agency also made significant strides in reforming its administration of justice system consistent with General Assembly resolutions 61/261, 62/228 and 63/253, to promote greater professionalism and transparency in the administration of justice. On 1 June the new system was established, with a decision review process prior to the submission of an appeal to the UNRWA Dispute Tribunal, from which an appeal lies to the United Nations Appeals Tribunal. Recruitment was initiated for a Judge. Mediators were also appointed from international and area staff, training was conducted and a mediation framework put in place.
22. The independent Ethics Office of UNRWA, established in September 2009, continued in 2010 to carry out its responsibilities to foster a culture of ethics, transparency and accountability, and in that regard to assist the Commissioner-General in ensuring that all staff members observe and perform their functions consistent with the highest standards of integrity required by the Charter of the United Nations. Reinforcing existing regulations and rules of the Agency, the Office provided ethics guidance and training for management and staff, and support for whistleblower protection. It also administered financial and conflict of interest disclosure for international and local UNRWA staff, and is the focal point for preventing and responding to sexual exploitation and abuse of beneficiaries and sexual harassment in the workplace.
23. During 2010, UNRWA further improved its financial management procedures and systems, achieving for the first time the monthly closing of its accounts, monthly financial reports on the UNRWA General Fund, and a monthly income statement, balance sheet, and expenditure disaggregation by programme, human development goal and resource. Improved financial risk management was introduced in October to help reduce the impact of foreign exchange volatility. The Agency intensified efforts towards an accrual basis of accounting during 2010 with a view to adoption of the International Public Sector Accounting Standards (IPSAS) mandated by the United Nations General Assembly.
24. UNRWA continued to turn to the General Assembly for support to secure additional resources, as the Agency’s effectiveness continued to be undercut by chronic financial crises. In that regard, the General Assembly, in its resolution 64/89 of 10 December 2009, requested the Secretary-General to submit a report on the strengthening of the management capacity of the Agency. The report was scheduled for release in early 2011.
D. Legal matters
25. Israeli authorities, raising security concerns, continued to restrict the freedom of movement of UNRWA personnel in the occupied Palestinian territory. The restrictions included closures of the West Bank and Gaza Strip; prohibiting local staff from travelling in United Nations vehicles across the Erez crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip and Allenby Bridge, or from driving in Israel and East Jerusalem; and cumbersome procedures for obtaining permits for local staff to enter Israel and East Jerusalem. On many occasions, permits were not granted even though the procedures were followed.
26. From September 2010, at Allenby Bridge the Israeli authorities routinely requested searches of United Nations vehicles that would violate the immunity of the United Nations, unless an occupant held an identification card that is currently issued by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs only to international staff stationed in the occupied Palestinian territory. This restricted in particular movement of international staff based at UNRWA Headquarters in Amman, to whom the Ministry does not issue such cards to date. As at the end of the reporting period, discussions between the Agency and the Ministry were ongoing.
27. Erez crossing procedures often remained time-consuming, with average wait times of just over 30 minutes on the Gaza Strip side of the crossing, endangering international staff members’ safety. Citing security concerns, the Israeli authorities continued to require United Nations vehicles to be submitted to a search that would violate the immunity of the United Nations, unless the vehicle included a United Nations staff member holding a diplomatic visa or was driven by an international staff member on a limited list approved by the Israeli authorities. On many occasions at checkpoints entering East Jerusalem, Israeli authorities refused to permit UNRWA staff members in United Nations vehicles to cross without a vehicle search that would violate the immunity of the United Nations.
28. The above-mentioned restrictions are inconsistent with the Charter of the United Nations, the 1946 Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations (the 1946 Convention), relevant United Nations resolutions, and the 1967 Comay-Michelmore Agreement, by which the Government of Israel is obligated to “facilitate the task of UNRWA to the best of its ability, subject only to regulations or arrangements which may be necessitated by considerations of military security”. UNRWA obtained permits for local staff to enter East Jerusalem for operational and humanitarian reasons only and without prejudice to relevant United Nations resolutions, including resolutions relating to the status of Jerusalem.
29. The Israeli authorities maintained that the restrictions were necessary to protect Israel against terrorist threats. Evidence was not available to the Agency, however, to indicate that measures concerning Agency staff and movement were for reasons other than police or administrative policy.
30. In the West Bank, coordination with the Israeli military liaison officers continued, including 67 meetings. However, these officers had limited or no influence over Israeli checkpoints staffed by private contractors and staff movement continued to be restricted and unpredictable at several checkpoints, notably those controlling access to East Jerusalem or through the West Bank barrier. In 2010, movement restrictions imposed by the Israeli authorities on the West Bank resulted in the loss of 293 staff days and additional Agency time and resources were expended to adapt to the restrictions. It remained difficult to deliver Agency services in the area between the West Bank barrier and the 1949 armistice line, in particular in the Barta’a area.
31. Local staff required permits from the Israeli authorities to transit the Erez crossing. A total of 64 UNRWA staff were permitted to cross Erez, whereas
45 UNRWA staff were denied permits. While the number of requests for Israeli permits decreased compared to 2009, the percentage of those approved remained comparable.
32. In 2010, the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza remained closed for public use for a total of 324 days, except for some cases with prior coordination. With the cooperation of the Egyptian authorities, UNRWA staff have been allowed to cross on two days a week after obtaining the necessary coordination. A total of 666 UNRWA staff were allowed to cross on duty travel outside the occupied Palestinian territory, while 16 staff were denied permission.
33. During the reporting period, no significant movement restrictions were imposed on UNRWA staff by the Governments of Jordan, Lebanon and the Syrian Arab Republic, or by the Palestinian Authority.
34. At the end of 2010, 14 staff members were in detention, five of whom were held by the Israeli authorities, two by each of the Jordanian, Lebanese and Palestinian authorities and three by the Syrian Arab Republic. Despite repeated requests made by the Agency in accordance with General Assembly resolution 36/232, the Israeli authorities did not provide the Agency with access to its detained staff but provided some information on the reasons for detention of four of the five staff members. The Jordanian authorities provided some information about one detained staff member. The Lebanese authorities provided some information and access to detained staff. At the end of the reporting period, despite requests, the Syrian authorities had not provided the Agency with access to its detained staff.
Agency services and premises
35. The normal route for the Agency’s humanitarian shipments into the Gaza Strip would be through the Karni crossing, except for construction materials, which would enter through the Sofa crossing. The Israeli authorities continued to impose transit charges on shipments entering the Gaza Strip, forcing UNRWA to pay $169,190 in 2010. In the Agency’s view, which Israel disputes, the charge is a direct tax, from which it ought to be exempt under the 1946 Convention. Throughout 2010, citing repeated attacks, the Israeli authorities continued the closure of the Karni crossing for all containers and of the Sofa crossing, and all UNRWA container shipments were required to enter through one secondary crossing, Kerem Shalom. As this crossing was not capable of receiving containers throughout the reporting period, all container shipments had to be palletized at port prior to transport to the Gaza Strip. Furthermore, the Kerem Shalom crossing was closed for imports for 58 out of 302 scheduled operating days (19 per cent). The closures of the Karni crossing and the requirement to palletize all container shipments contributed to increased expenditure in the form of charges for storage, demurrage, transportation and palletization of some $1.98 million, including $638,230 for palletization costs. One conveyor belt at Karni crossing remained in use for bulk wheat and animal feed, including wheat used to mill flour for refugees. From May 2010 the conveyor belt was also used for bulk aggregate for construction projects approved by Israeli authorities. The conveyor belt was open for 99 of the 276 scheduled opening days. As a result, the amount of wheat delivered to the mills contracted to produce flour was significantly reduced and the Agency’s buffer stock of wheat exhausted as at the end of 2010.
36. The Israeli authorities announced in June that they would “liberalize the system by which civilian goods enter Gaza [and] expand the inflow of materials for civilian projects that are under international supervision”. Since then, UNRWA was able to start or restart 20 projects in 2010 and import 1,095 truckloads of construction materials for projects approved by Israeli authorities. However, the procedures required to import the necessary construction materials were cumbersome and expensive, obliging UNRWA to employ during the latter part of 2010 one additional international staff member and some 15 additional local staff to address the additional bureaucratic burden. At the end of the reporting period, the Israeli authorities had not permitted the entry into the Gaza Strip of equipment purchased in 2009 required for the maintenance of environmental health of Palestine refugees in UNRWA camps.
37. The Operations Support Officer programme continued in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and Lebanon. The programme played an invaluable role in upholding United Nations neutrality; in facilitating access of UNRWA staff members, vehicles and goods through checkpoints and, in the occupied Palestinian territory, to areas affected by Israeli military operations; in supporting the Agency’s programmes and initiatives; in monitoring the humanitarian situation of the Palestinian population; in the inspection of UNRWA installations; and in providing a measure of protection to refugees, including the displaced.
38. The 1946 Convention provides that “the premises of the United Nations shall be inviolable”. Contrary to that legal obligation, the Israeli military forcibly entered UNRWA premises in the West Bank on two occasions. On one occasion, six tear gas canisters landed in the premises of an UNRWA school. In the Gaza Strip, on four occasions UNRWA installations were damaged owing to military operations by the Israel Defense Forces.
39. As referred to in the previous report of the Commissioner-General (A/65/13), following the convening of the United Nations Headquarters Board of Inquiry on certain incidents in the Gaza Strip between 27 December 2008 and 19 January 2009, and the subsequent submission of the United Nations to Israel of a claim for reimbursement for losses, in January 2010 Israel made a payment of $10.5 million to the United Nations, of which $10.27 million were remitted to the Agency. On
15 November, the Israeli authorities approved import of construction materials for the reconstruction of the UNRWA warehouse located on the UNRWA Field Office compound in Gaza City. All other UNRWA buildings damaged during the incidents for which the Board had found responsibility were repaired as at the end of 2010.
40. In the West Bank, Palestinian Authority security forces did not enter UNRWA premises during the reporting period. There were 15 incursions and other violations of UNRWA installations by unknown perpetrators presumed to be Palestinian. In the Gaza Strip, on two occasions armed Palestinian militants entered and destroyed UNRWA beach locations constructed for Summer Games. Summer Games locations were hit by hot metal shrapnel and a sound bomb in two separate incidents. On five occasions unknown persons, local militants or police forcibly entered UNRWA installations at times causing damage. Over a period of time, armed militants accessed a half-completed construction project, using the space for military training and on one occasion armed militants forcibly demanded to be driven in an UNRWA vehicle. In one instance four UNRWA schools and one UNRWA health centre were damaged and in two instances students sustained injuries from bullets or explosions.
41. There were no incursions into UNRWA premises in Jordan or the Syrian Arab Republic. In Lebanon, on one occasion, a Palestinian militant broke into an UNRWA school and fired ammunition from the roof of the building.
42. During 2010, UNRWA did not receive any reimbursement for value-added tax by the Palestinian Authority. At 31 December 2010, the total amount of value-added tax still due to the Agency from the Palestinian Authority was approximately $38.8 million. The Palestinian Authority has continued to acknowledge its obligation to reimburse value-added tax to the Agency.
43. During the reporting period, the Agency was required, as in the past, to pay port fees and other charges to the Syrian authorities, contrary to the 1948 Agreement between the United Nations and the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic. In 2010, fees and charges totalling $18,113 were paid.
Legal status of Palestine refugees in the Agency’s area of operations
44. The legal status of Palestine refugees in Jordan, the Syrian Arab Republic, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip remained substantially the same as that described in the report of the Commissioner-General for 2008. 4
45. In June 2005, the Ministry of Labour of Lebanon allowed registered Palestine refugees born in Lebanon to work at manual and clerical jobs and to obtain work permits, both of which were previously denied. Palestine refugees continued to be barred from syndicated professions, such as law, medicine and engineering. Unemployment among refugees was high and living conditions poor. The Lebanese Parliament on 17 August adopted amendments to the labour and social security laws waiving the reciprocity principle in relation to end-of-service indemnity and eliminating the anomaly whereby contributions were being paid by Palestinian refugees without receiving corresponding benefits. All Palestine refugees registered with UNRWA received identity documents and could acquire renewable travel documents. A 1957 decree still in force governs the movement of Palestine refugees, who in practice may freely change their residence in the country. Palestine refugees have limited access to government services and have to depend almost entirely on UNRWA for basic services. Legislation preventing Palestine refugees from buying immovable property remained in force.
E. Financial overview
1. Sources of funding
46. With the exception of international staff posts funded by the General Assembly through the United Nations regular budget, UNRWA operations, projects and emergency appeals are funded by the voluntary contributions of donors (see fig. I). Projects are earmarked contributions for specific activities that complement the Agency’s regular programmes.
Distribution of sources of funding by donor category and funding channel
49. Jordan hosts the largest population of Palestine refugees, numbering 2 million as at 30 June 2010. During 2010, UNRWA’s field management in Jordan pursued reform of its core programmes, in line with Agency-wide processes. Reform of the relief and social service programme aims to transform social work and integrate more effectively the different services provided by the programme. The approach included categorizing the most vulnerable beneficiaries based on the type of assistance required and establishing a comprehensive referral system. This system will also promote greater synergies between the health and education programmes and external service partners. Education reform seeks to improve the learning environment through modernization of school facilities and equipment, and introduction of child-centred approaches to teaching. Key elements of the health reform include managing the demand for services, and rationalizing access to services including through a new electronic appointment system. In line with Agency-wide reforms, the Jordan field office increased its capacity to better plan, implement and manage its programmes.
50. As at 30 June 2010, the registered Palestine refugee population in Lebanon stood at 427,057. The Agency’s Lebanon field office continued implementing a programme of reforms during 2010 designed to bring tangible improvements to the quality of services provided to Palestine refugees. Service improvements will also help ensure dignity for the refugees in their daily lives. During the reporting period, the field office engaged in high-level discussions with the Lebanese Ministry of Health and succeeded in securing support for wider coverage of health services to the Palestine refugees. As a consequence, 35 hospitals are now contracted by UNRWA (up from 15 in 2009) to provide care to refugees. The reform in education has led to improved learning support, such as a Summer Learning programme for about 12,000 children who failed in the basic subjects of Arabic, mathematics and English in grades 4 to 9 using specially created, improved teaching materials and better-structured support for UNRWA teachers.
C. Syrian Arab Republic
51. As at 30 June 2010, the registered Palestine refugee population in the Syrian Arab Republic stood at 477,700. During the reporting period, UNRWA made its vocational training activities a priority area in order to address youth unemployment and raise the socio-economic status of Palestinian refugees in the country. The Agency is preparing young refugees for the transition from school to work through its Damascus Training Centre (DTC) and its “Engaging Youth” project. Highlighting its value, employment rates for graduates of the one- or two-year Damascus Training Centre courses consistently exceed 80 per cent, against an unemployment rate of 56 per cent for Syrian youth as a whole. Employment rates for graduates of three-month vocational training courses average between 40 per cent and 50 per cent. The Syrian field office identified youth services as an important vehicle for development of the Palestinian community, as a channel to introduce new concepts of entrepreneurship as well as vocational and livelihood skills for young graduates who can compete successfully in the rapidly changing Syrian labour market. The youth initiatives also aim to reduce disaffection, frustration and pessimism among young refugees. Building upon the success of its youth programming, UNRWA formed a partnership with UNICEF and the General Authority for Palestinian Refugees, the Syrian Government agency with responsibility for the refugees, to formulate a joint youth strategy for Palestinian refugees.
D. West Bank
52. As at 30 June 2010, the registered Palestine refugee population in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, stood at 788,108. UNRWA’s West Bank education programme initiated a comprehensive education recovery plan to ensure a better quality of education for the refugees. This plan focused on reforms in such foundational areas as curricula, teaching methods and remedial education, as well as more broadly on school management, community participation and child well-being. Independent testing indicates a modest improvement in Arabic and mathematics achievement by October 2010. The Health Department introduced a Family and Child Protection programme in nine camps in partnership with local and international organizations.
53. The health programme is also leading a task force on HIV/AIDS. Also in the Health Department, an external quality control system has been introduced and senior mental health staff have received leadership and management training. In the Relief and Social Services programme, UNRWA introduced poverty-based targeting to ensure that the most vulnerable refugees are identified and supported. In 2010, some 450,000 Palestine refugees applied for cash and food assistance. Of these, 289,000 were identified and provided with support valued at $60 million.
E. Gaza Strip
54. As at 30 June 2010, the registered Palestine refugee population in the Gaza Strip stood at 1.1 million. In 2010, education remained the Gaza field office’s top priority in line with the wishes of the refugee population. The field office improved the academic performance of UNRWA students, and promoted classroom behaviour conducive to learning through its comprehensive Respect and Discipline Initiative. UNRWA also continued its development of a dedicated human rights curriculum, while introducing comprehensive assessments for its lowest achieving students in order to identify any health, psychosocial, economic or other factors preventing them from attaining basic levels of numeracy and literacy. Against this backdrop, UNRWA’s Microfinance and Emergency Job Creation programmes supported informal entrepreneurs, the private sector and critical public works projects.
Subprogramme review presented within the framework of the human development goals of UNRWA
55. In 2010, UNRWA inaugurated its new strategic framework as outlined in the medium-term strategy 2010-2015. The strategy provides direction for the Agency based on 15 strategic objectives, each of which contributes to one or more of four human development goals: a long and healthy life; acquired knowledge and skills; a decent standard of living; and human rights enjoyed to the fullest.
56. During the reporting period, the Agency’s field offices and headquarters departments worked towards biennium targets set out in field and headquarters implementation plans that are based on the Agency’s five-year strategic vision and refugee needs assessments conducted by each field. The following section indicates progress towards meeting UNRWA’s planned targets; however, because the report covers only the first year of the 2010-2011 biennium, not all results and outputs are available at the time of writing. Where there are lacunae, indicators will be included in the report of the Commissioner-General for 2011.
Goal 1. A long and healthy life
57. UNRWA delivers basic health services to refugees and provides safe water and sanitation to refugees living in camps and some gatherings. Despite the difficult conditions prevailing in camp communities, communicable diseases are under control and infant, child mortality and maternal rates have declined over the past two decades.
58. The long and healthy life human development goal is achieved through the UNRWA health programme and interventions by the camp improvement and infrastructure programme, in collaboration with host countries and national and international partners where applicable.
59. Approximately 66 per cent of eligible refugees use UNRWA health facilities. Better data is needed to identify instances where refugees are not using UNRWA services as a result of barriers to access, or because they are using other services available in host countries.
60. UNRWA is working to adapt its programme delivery to better respond to pressures such as population growth, declining environmental conditions and new epidemiological challenges, as well as rising prices of medical supplies and services. These pressures are already undermining the quality of the Agency’s activities.
61. During 2010 the UNRWA health programme continued to suffer from chronic staff shortages and difficulties in attracting and retaining qualified staff as well as deteriorating infrastructure. The average number of consultations per doctor per day is about 95, leading to regrettably short consultation times that reduce the quality of interaction with a medical professional.
62. The connection of camp shelters to a water network is close to 98 per cent, but problems of quality and continuity exist. Communicable diseases, especially those associated with poor environmental conditions, sometimes occur. Micronutrients deficiency including iron deficiency anaemia is highly prevalent among preschool and school-age children and pregnant and nursing women. The incidence of non-communicable diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, hypertension and cancers, is rising.
63. UNRWA has started a reform process to address these challenges in a cost-effective manner. Innovations such as workforce analysis, hospital payment schemes, and medicine price analyses have been undertaken and the health programme is pursuing other approaches in the medium to long-term such as increased partnerships and complementary services with other providers in order to assist Palestine refugees to achieve long and healthy lives.
Strategic objective 1
To ensure universal access to quality, comprehensive primary health care