Press Release
Department of Public Information · News Coverage Service · New York


8 December 1999




Following are the remarks of Secretary-General Kofi Annan at an 8 December Headquarters press briefing, held in conjunction with the pledging conference and fiftieth anniversary observance of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA):

Fifty years ago today, in one of the first humanitarian undertakings of the United Nations, the General Assembly gave UNRWA a mandate to provide emergency relief and other assistance to three-quarters of a million Palestine refugees.

It is no cause for celebration that the need for that assistance continues to be felt today. But it is a source of pride for the Organization that millions of refugees have received vital assistance and the basics of life directly from an agency of the United Nations. No other United Nations programme has been so closely linked, for so long, with the history of a people. Today, the United Nations flag flies over 650 UNRWA schools, 122 UNRWA health centres, and dozens of UNRWA community centres and other facilities across the Middle East.

In a region frequently beset by conflict and upheaval, UNRWA has been an important source of stability. UNRWA opened the Arab world's first vocational training centre for young men, in the West Bank. UNRWA carries out programmes for young people in tolerance and conflict-resolution. UNRWA has also helped to preserve the cultural identity of the Palestinian people.

Despite this record, and despite the urgent need to create economic and social conditions that are conducive to peace, UNRWA today finds itself in a state of financial strangulation. Since assuming his responsibilities in 1996, Commissioner-General Peter Hansen has shown great dynamism and creativity in leading UNRWA through a difficult period in the Agency's existence. He and his team have now put forward a no-frills budget for the next two years that will deliver value for money and enable UNRWA to get away from the austerity measures of the past six years.

It is essential that donors respond. UNRWA must have the resources it needs to deliver the services that refugees require and deserve.

I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the tens of thousands of dedicated staff members of UNRWA, almost all of whom are Palestine refugees themselves. Thousands have served the Agency for 40 years or more. We are proud of these members of the United Nations family. We know that it has been dedication to the United Nations, as well as a sense of commitment to their own people, that has motivated and defined their hard work.

I would also like to thank UNRWA's donor community, and the countries that continue to host the Agency's operations, for their crucial support. Thank you very much. Commissioner-General Hansen would now like to say a few words and then will be pleased to take your questions.

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For information media - not an official record