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


22 May 2003


AMMAN, 22 May (UNRWA) -- The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) has told a meeting of its major donors that it will not halt its humanitarian operations in the Gaza Strip as a consequence of the closure imposed by the Israeli authorities.

The UNRWA has repeatedly protested to the Government of Israel that the restrictions on movement placed on its international staff violated international law and caused great harm to its humanitarian operations.  However, Peter Hansen, UNRWA’s Commissioner-General, clarified recent reports that UNRWA’s operations might be forced to cease if the closure continues.  He said:  “For some smaller agencies and NGOs [non-governmental organizations] the option of closing down operations might be one way of dealing with the difficulties caused by the Gaza closure.  For UNRWA, which has 174 schools, 17 clinics, 8,000 staff and 900,000 refugees to serve in Gaza, that option simply does not exist.  UNRWA remains committed to serving the refugees in Gaza, whatever the difficulties it faces.”

Mr. Hansen was speaking at a meeting of 27 donor and host nations in Amman, Jordan.  He revealed that UNRWA has received pledges of only $34 million against the $94 million it needed to carry out emergency operations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the first half of 2003.

This funding shortfall comes amid growing hardship and desperation in the occupied Palestinian territories, where demands for UNRWA services are increasing.  More than 1 million people in the West Bank and Gaza now rely on UNRWA for food aid.  Over 12,000 refugees have lost their homes to demolitions and need humanitarian assistance from UNRWA.  Thousands of children in UNRWA schools have been traumatized by violence and require counselling.

The UNRWA told donors that it faced other difficulties, in addition to the closure of Gaza.  Curfews imposed on the territories caused every one of UNRWA’s schools in the West Bank to lose 1,000 teacher workdays.  In February and March alone UNRWA vehicles lost 1,500 hours at West Bank checkpoints.

In all, six of UNRWA’s donors used the meeting to pledge fresh financial support for the Agency.  The United States, UNRWA’s largest donor, announced an additional $67 million for UNRWA’s 2003 regular budget and emergency operations.  The United Kingdom agreed to donate $22.4 million, while the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia announced a new donation of $6 million to be used towards a project to preserve UNRWA’s refugee records and to assist with shelter reconstruction in the West Bank and Gaza.  Norway and Switzerland also announced contributions to the current Emergency Appeal, while Australia pledged to increase its support of UNRWA’s regular activities by 5 per cent.

For more information call Paul McCann on +972 59 428 008.

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For information media - not an official record