STATEMENT BY PIERRE KRÄHENBÜHL COMMISSIONER-GENERAL OF UNRWA ON THE OCCASION
OF THE OBSERVANCE OF THE INTERNATIONAL DAY OF SOLIDARITY WITH THE PALESTINIAN PEOPLE
25 November 2014
United Nations Headquarters – New York
Monday, 24 November 2014
HE Mr. Chairman of the Committee of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People,
HE Mr. President of the General Assembly,
HE Mr. President of the Security Council,
He. Mr. Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am greatly honoured to be present today in New York to observe with you the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.
This is also an important day in UNRWA’s calendar as it is 65 years – nearly two thirds of a full century - since our Agency was created to provide relief and works to Palestine refugees. Our ongoing existence is a reminder both of what has been achieved for the refugee communities over these years and of what happens when no political solution is found to address the underlying causes of the conflict and occupation. We are also reminded that UNRWA’s work is often carried out in deadly environments: on this Solidarity Day, it is beholden to me to underline UNRWA’s deep gratitude and heartfelt respect to the 11 Members of our staff who died during the recent conflict in Gaza and the 14 who have lost their lives in Syria.
Today pressures on Palestinians and Palestine refugees are immense and the threats to their lives, livelihoods and future are of such magnitude that hope is desperately needed somewhere on the horizon. We all know, however, that hope in this most unstable region can only be brought about by resolute political action.
Surveying our areas of operations gives me cause for great concern. Recovery in Gaza is imperative. While we welcome the efforts being made to facilitate entry of building materials into Gaza which have led to some initial positive results, the reconstruction process needs to be speeded up otherwise we will reach the winter with little progress in repairing and rebuilding the homes of the 110,000 persons still displaced, including those residing in UNRWA schools. The people of Gaza deserve much better than this.
In this context it is important that PM Hamdallah be supported and that the Government of National Consensus be empowered to assume all its governance responsibilities in Gaza. The international community must also play its part. While I welcome the Cairo Donors Conference and the significant pledges made, these need urgently to be transformed into actual disbursements. This is not a time for wait-and-see attitudes. Time is running out, tempers are rising and people are desperate.
In Syria over 60% of Palestine refugees are now displaced or have become refugees a second time over, in Lebanon, Jordan and in several other countries in the region. Fleeing the conflict, though, is becoming more difficult by the day as borders are closing. Refugees, reflecting their desperate and seemingly hopeless plight, are taking increasingly dangerous routes across conflict zones or even attempting to cross the Mediterranean to reach Europe. Several Palestinians who had survived the conflicts in Gaza and Syria have drowned in their attempts.
All those who remain in Syria are in need of assistance. Yarmouk refugee camp remains of deep concern, with 16,000 to 18,000 civilians trapped, living in hunger, cold and constant fear. What is worse, since this summer, there has been a noticeable decline in what the Agency has been able to bring into Yarmouk. Far more needs to be done in terms of assistance and of protection for the people in Yarmouk, something that continues to be explicitly and openly raised with the Syrian authorities.
We, in UNRWA, observe on a daily basis the human consequences and costs of the ongoing denial of dignity and rights of Palestine refugees. It is our role to mitigate these effects by providing health, education, relief and social services to the refugees and to advocate for an end to the intolerable reality which impacts their daily lives. At the same time, UNRWA will strengthen its focus on protection and rights for all refugees including the most vulnerable, because, at the end of the day, however good our services are, they will never fully compensate for the unfulfilled, legitimate expectation of refugees to see their rights respected.
While there is much pessimism and gloom about the near term outlook, I want to end on an optimistic note which illustrates just what can be achieved even in the most difficult circumstances.
With your support UNRWA has achieved, over decades, one of the most remarkable processes of human capital development in the middle-income and developing world, in particular in the fields of health and education, as underlined once again in a recent World Bank report where UNRWA’s performance in providing education to refugees has been very positively appraised.
Palestinians have always greatly invested in education, something UNRWA has been able to build on and expand. While I frequently hear comments about the burden for donors to continue assisting an ever growing number of Palestine refugees, in actual fact donors have, through UNRWA, supported a major investment in knowledge and skills.
There are many developing and middle-income countries that envy the Palestinians for the quality of their human capital. As we know there is one thing that Palestinians envy others for and that is the fact of having a state. The creation of a Palestinian state – living beside and coexisting with Israel – would be the defining measure of the sustainability of this decades-long process of development. I wish to underline once again the need for hope and political action.
Indeed that is the key message from the pictures in UNRWA’s archive that you will see tonight.
I look forward to seeing you there.
I thank you.
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$ 56 million.
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