On 20 November, the Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), Filippo Grandi, welcomed Christian Friis Bach, Minister for Development Cooperation and acting Foreign Minister of the Kingdom of Denmark, on an official visit to the Gaza Strip.
In Gaza, where UNRWA educates almost 233,000 young Palestine refugees at 245 schools, Mr. Grandi and Robert Turner, Director of UNRWA Operations in Gaza, accompanied the minister to a school in Beach Camp. Mr. Friis Bach met with the school parliament and also attended a human rights class. The Agency has been promoting human rights education since 2000, and in Gaza, developed a dedicated human rights curriculum, anchored in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that all pupils study.
Gaza presents a particularly challenging context for UNRWA education efforts, as many of its students grow up in bleak conditions, surrounded by poverty and with little hope for a better future. The ceasefire negotiations following the November 2012 escalation of violence did not lead to significant modifications in the access regime, and the past months have seen the situation rapidly deteriorating, exacerbating the process of de-development created by the blockade. The movement of people and goods is severely restricted, and unemployment and food insecurity are on the rise. Fuel shortages and the shutdown of the Gaza Power Plant on 1 November have also put continued public service provision at risk.
At Beach Camp, Mr. Friis Bach expressed the support for UNRWA from the Government of Denmark and announced a donation of DKK 10 million (US$ 1.8 million) to help the Agency maintain its services to Palestine refugees. He said: "It has been an honour to meet these young people today, to see and learn from their strength and resilience. For children and young people growing up in such challenging circumstances, it is important that they receive the support and assistance that they need, and we are proud to help UNRWA provide them with that support."
Mr. Grandi thanked Mr. Friis Bach for his support and said: “This is a time of extreme challenges for Palestine refugees in Gaza who have been seriously affected by the rapidly and substantially deteriorating situation. We are grateful to the Government and the people of Denmark for their strong and consistent support to UNRWA and for helping us provide the assistance and protection they critically need."
He noted that Danish support has been of particular importance to the vital human development services that UNRWA provides to some 5 million Palestine refugees across Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, the West Bank and Gaza, including education, health care and relief. In addition, Denmark has contributed to help UNRWA respond to pressing emergencies. Reflecting its position as a major UNRWA partner, Denmark joined the Agency's Advisory Commission in 2005.
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UNRWA is a United Nations agency established by the General Assembly in 1949 and is mandated to provide assistance and protection to a population of some 5 million registered Palestine refugees. Its mission is to help Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank and the Gaza Strip to achieve their full potential in human development, pending a just solution to their plight. UNRWA’s services encompass education, health care, relief and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, and microfinance.
Financial support to UNRWA has not kept pace with an increased demand for services caused by growing numbers of registered refugees, expanding need, and deepening poverty. As a result, the Agency's General Fund (GF), supporting UNRWA’s core activities and 97 per cent reliant on voluntary contributions, has begun each year with a large projected deficit. Currently the deficit stands at US$ 36 million.
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