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Source: United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA)
8 May 2012

Dignity and rights in urban spaces: Ground-breaking urban planning in the Middle East

8 May 2012, Berlin/Jerusalem -- A new exhibition has opened in the Deutsches Architektur Zentrum DAZ in Berlin which showcases ground-breaking community participation in urban planning that is improving the conditions of the Palestine refugee camps in the Middle East. "Space, Time, Dignity, Rights: Improving Palestinian Refugee Camps" puts the spotlight on cutting-edge, grassroots involvement in planning and improving the camps. This initiative has been pioneered by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), which works in 58 refugee camps, with the support of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).

Opening the exhibition, the German Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development, Dirk Niebel said, "One of the many lessons of the last year and the Arab Spring has been that communities must be centrally involved in shaping all aspects of their own futures. Planning the urban spaces where they live is an essential part of that and nowhere is this more important than in the camps where UNRWA works, in Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the West Bank." The Minister hailed the work of UNRWA's camp improvement programme, which he said had "blazed a trail in setting new standards for involving communities in the way their living spaces are designed, planned and improved."

Also at the opening, UNRWA Commissioner-General Filippo Grandi told journalists: "Planning something as sensitive as an urban environment with grassroots groups is a complex process. For Palestine refugees, the act of designing and shaping their own spaces has instilled a sense of dignity and optimism -- this is an incredibly valuable and lasting contribution to any society. We are most grateful to the government and people of Germany for their support of our camp improvement programme."

The exhibition puts the German-supported work of UNRWA into its geographical and historical context. It introduces viewers to the urban reality of the camps, which are home to 1.5 million refugees out of almost five million living in UNRWA’s fields of operation. It focuses on the recent "camp improvement programme" launched by UNRWA with the support of BMZ -- a new and innovative approach to improving the living conditions in Palestine refugee camps, which have evolved in the last 60 years from temporary tent cities into complex and diversified living environments. While camps in more isolated locations are still in a state of under-development, with refugees living in zinc-roofed and makeshift houses, other camps have become hyper-congested masses of multi-storey buildings, where poverty and extreme overcrowding are rife.

The exhibition features new works developed in partnership among camp communities, UNRWA, local and international architects, planners and artists. Through audio and video works, documents, drawings, sketches and testimonies, the viewers will gain a vivid insight into the process of planning: how ideas were developed, decisions made, and projects implemented. The outcomes are impressive, ranging from large infrastructure projects to small urban acupuncture interventions such as new play spaces for children, graffiti art or the foundation of a cultural centre including a film school for young camp residents.

The exhibition was curated by the University of Stuttgart/Chair of International Urbanism (Prof. Dr. Philipp Misselwitz) in collaboration with the infrastructure and camp improvement programme of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). It has been made possible by UNRWA together with the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), implemented by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, in partnership with the Deutsches Architektur Zentrum DAZ in Berlin.

On the following day, 9 May 2012, the topic will be further explored during an all-day academic conference, organized in co-operation with the University of Stuttgart, Chair of International Urbanism.

UNRWA provides assistance and protection through a range of human development programmes and, whenever required, humanitarian interventions. Through UNRWA, the international community supports Palestine refugees until their plight is solved in a just and lasting manner, in accordance with UN resolutions. The Agency provides education, health, relief and social services, infrastructure and camp improvement as well as micro-finance to up to five million Palestine refugees across the Middle East.

The German government is a strong partner and one of UNRWA's largest donors. The German commitment will be continued within the next years in the framework of the German development programme “Supporting Palestinian Refugees”, with the aim of improving the living conditions of Palestinian refugees in the region. Germany has established the Regional Social and Cultural Fund for Palestinian Refugees and the People of Gaza that aims at supporting Palestinian refugees to better cope with the ongoing conflict situation, and to develop life prospects for themselves and their community. Positive economic and social development that brings tangible benefits for the Palestinian population is vital to lasting peace.

Further information at:


Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ)
Sebastian Lesch
Tel: +49 30 18 535 2452

United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA)
Chris Gunness
Tel: +972 542 402 659

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