REMARKS OF DEPUTY COMMISSIONER-GENERAL AT THE ‘INVESTING IN THE FUTURE’ CHILD PROTECTION CONFERENCE
17 October 2014
UNRWA Deputy Commissioner-General Margot Ellis delivered these remarks as part of the ‘Investing in the Future’ Protecting Refugee Children in the Middle East and North Africa High-Level Panel: Towards Better Protection of Refugee Children and Adolescents in the Middle East and North Africa Region
Sharjah, United Arab Emirates
Your Highness, Excellencies, distinguished guests.
Important voices before me have outlined the gravity of the situation and the urgency of our challenge. The truism “children are the future” has perhaps never rung as clearly as it does today in the Middle East. We see schools bombed, children killed and maimed, families torn apart and made to flee their homes and countries. Insecurity and fear are becoming the norm rather than the exception. And this should not be the case. We come together to discuss how we can combine our efforts to secure productive futures for the children and youth of the region.
I work for UNRWA, which has 65 years of experience in assisting and protecting Palestine refugees. Protection needs stem from vulnerability. Few are more vulnerable than the children of refugees. Trying to mitigate that vulnerability has therefore put protection at the very heart of our mandate. Protection is interwoven through all our services since UNRWA’s establishment in 1949.
The vulnerability of Palestinian children and youth is more acute than ever before. Palestine refugee children are exposed to considerable child protection concerns including physical and emotional violence, sexual abuse, child marriage, detention, child labor and the effects of armed conflict.
Poverty, stifled employment opportunities and overcrowded living conditions in refugee camps are just some of the elements that exacerbate child protection concerns for Palestine refugee children. The data are alarming:
I would like to share with you five ‘lessons’ from our experience:
UNRWA’s tradition of school parliaments gives children voice in the way their schools are run. We are now piloting an innovative project called MyVoiceMySchool. Using Skype, we link conflict-affected youth in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan with peers in the UK to develop advocacy on education and give voice to youth on their futures. Conversations are vibrant and exciting as youth discover shared values, fears and priorities.
Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) enshrines children’s right to have a voice, particularly in matters that concern them. Ensuring that children and youth are not ignored and have the space to define their own lives are incredibly powerful ways to promote protection. And this voice and vision transcend political agendas, silencing the senseless violence and destruction.
Ayat, a 15 year old girl in a collective shelter in Damascus, confidently says she plans to rebuild her country more beautiful than it ever was. “In silence, I am powerless but with my voice, I can do many things”, she says. It is only when our children see they have audience, know they can be heard, and can effect change – that they will.
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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