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Source: UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA)
4 June 2002
Statement by the Commissioner-General of UNRWA
Gaza, 4 June 2002

The events of recent months and the current sensitive security situation in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip have once again brought up issues concerning refugee camps and UNRWA institutions. I am mindful of the current attention in the local and international media focused on UNRWA's mandate and its role in the refugee camps. I consider it necessary in the circumstances to reiterate the principles that govern implementation of UNRWA's humanitarian mandate. In carrying out their duties, UNRWA staff seek at all times to convey to the refugee beneficiaries the principles and objectives of the UN Charter and international humanitarian law. UNRWA's services in its areas of operation endeavour to be consistent with these principles. The Agency's educational, health and social services are targeted at the most marginalised and under-privileged sections of the refugee population. UNRWA's three core programmes have evolved and developed over the years. In keeping with the above objectives:

    • The Agency's Education Department has provided elementary education to three generations of refugee children;
    • In addition to the regular curricula, it has sought consistently to inculcate the values of tolerance, democracy, human rights, mutual respect and conflict resolution;
    • In the current state of great strife, the Agency and its leadership have continuously re-emphasised to all those involved in the Agency's Education Programme, particularly the teachers and students, the need to adhere to these values;
    • It follows that teachers and other school staff ensure that students are instructed to refrain from any association with militancy or extremism in any form.

The Agency's Health Programme has:

    • Provided primary health services to the most needy and vulnerable refugees, including women, children and the elderly;
    • Passed on all serious medical cases to hospitals with whom UNRWA has institutional arrangements or to the Agency hospital in Qalqilya in the West Bank;
    • In cases of light injuries where treatment at UNRWA clinics is feasible, and at the Agency hospital in Qalqilya, suspected cases of criminal activity are treated in conjunction with reporting to the local Police authorities.

UNRWA's Relief and Social Services Programme has:

    • Targeted the most impoverished of the refugee families who have no bread winners, according to specified criteria;
    • Built an extensive database of the socio-economic profiles of the beneficiaries;
    • Ensured that any changes to these profiles are monitored continuously;
    • Ensured that any departure from specified criteria leads to termination of assistance.

The Agency's core programmes have been implemented in accordance with internal monitoring procedures that are extensive and span all programme activities and areas of operation, regarding:

    • Identification and targeting of the intended beneficiaries;
    • Ensuring the integrity, neutrality and apolitical nature of its installations;
    • Field Directors and their staff conducting regular inspections to ensure the integrity of Agency installations and protect them against abuse. Agency warehouses and stores are covered by these periodic inspections;
    • Proscription therein of all political activities, activities that are offensive from a religious, ethnic or national standpoint or those that disparage the United Nations or the host governments;
    • Community Rehabilitation centres, Women and Youth activity centres in the refugee camps that use Agency premises for their activities, being legally bound and subject to UNRWA control mechanisms;
    • Exercising utmost control to ensure that UNRWA transport is not used for purposes that could impinge on its neutrality as a UN humanitarian agency;
    • The prohibition of any activity in the Agency's installations classified as illegal under local law;
    • In the current charged and sensitive political environment in its areas of operation, the maximum degree of vigilance being exercised to protect the Agency and its programmes from association with any militancy or political activism.

UNRWA's employees, whether international or area staff are:

    • Required to avoid any active involvement in political activities or any other action that may call into question their integrity, independence and impartiality as United Nations officials;
    • Subject to disciplinary action or dismissal for all violations of these staff regulations;
    • Required at the time of recruitment to reveal whether they have a criminal record, and any criminal charges proved against them while in service constitute grounds for disciplinary action or dismissal;
    • Reminded that if they cannot reconcile their political affiliations or national aspirations with their duty to UNRWA, they should not remain in the organisation.

UNRWA as a member of the United Nations family maintains its international character. In this regard:

    • The Agency has always been aware of the need to demonstrate an enhanced international presence during periods of emergency and crisis when called upon to intervene to provide humanitarian assistance;
    • During the first intifada, such an enhanced international presence was embodied in the Refugee Affairs' Officer Programme that provided general assistance to the refugee population;
    • During the current strife, UNRWA recruited international Operations Support Officers to facilitate the movement and delivery of humanitarian assistance;
    • The Agency would like to project an enhanced international presence through the expansion of the Operations Support Officer Programme in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, subject to funding considerations;
    • The reduction in its international staff strength during the last decade has been a result of the budgetary constraints facing UNRWA.

UNRWA's functioning is subject not only to the consent but also the active cooperation of the host governments and the Government of Israel. Dialogue and information sharing has been a fundamental principle throughout the history of UNRWA's relationship with the host authorities and Israel. Such institutionalised coordination and liaison with the Government of Israel has included the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Israeli Defence Forces and the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories. UNRWA's dialogue with the Israeli Government has covered all issues of mutual interest and concern. The UN Charter and international humanitarian law have constituted the primary guiding principles of UNRWA operations. Over the past five decades, the Agency has developed its monitoring mechanisms and consequently supplemented its programmes with new inputs and interventions when needed to maintain the integrity and impartiality of installations and staff and in programme implementation and targeting beneficiaries. However, mechanisms for its regular core programmes could not be automatically applied to every aspect of the emergency humanitarian assistance that UNRWA was mandated to provide to refugees, and even to non-refugees, at times of regional crises. In a rapidly evolving emergency, UNRWA responded through its food distribution, emergency medical services and expanded relief and social services to a substantially larger beneficiary population. The Agency has made every effort to adhere to its guiding principles and monitoring mechanisms during such crisis intervention. Although this task by its very nature is an evolving and unfinished one, the Agency remains committed to pursuing it.
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