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United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA)
11 May 2000
Donors and host governments reiterate support for UNRWA
In a meeting concluded today in Amman, UNRWA's major donor host and governments reaffirmed support for the Agency and its efforts to maintain services to about 3.7 million Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, the Syrian Arab Republic, and the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Delegates represented 28 of the Agency's donors and host governments, and the Palestine Liberation Organization.
In the keynote address to the meeting, the Jordanian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Abdul Ilah Khatib, reiterated Jordan's full support to UNRWA and expressed his Government's continued commitment to doing all possible to enable the Agency to perform its mission as mandated by the United Nations. "Given the complexity of the refugee problem, UNRWA's continuous role is very essential, not only in terms of providing services and humanitarian assistance to the refugees, but in as much as it symbolizes the political commitment of the international community to the cause of refugees and to reaching a just and durable settlement to their problem", Minister Khatib said.
In his opening remarks, Commissioner-General Peter Hansen thanked donor and host governments for their continued support to the Agency and briefed the meeting on the developments in the Agency's work since the last meeting of donors and host governments which was held on 29 September 1999. In addition, the Commissioner-General spoke about his recent visit to the Gulf countries during which he was pleased with the strong support and sympathy to UNRWA and Palestine refugees, which would hopefully translate into increased contributions from this region to UNRWA. Mr. Hansen confirmed UNRWA's commitment to maintaining its basic services to the refugees, particularly during a politically charged atmosphere. "However, and to be able to maintain the same level of services, the Agency requires additional contributions to bridge the gap between expected income and expenditure requirements for the year 2000", Mr. Hansen stated. Of particular concern to the Agency was the $36 million gap between the $280 million cash requirements for the year 2000 and the $244 million in foreseen income for the same year. "While the level of major donor contributions to the Agency has not decreased in absolute terms, they have not kept pace with the annual growth of the refugee population", Mr. Hansen added. Furthermore, the adverse effect of the strong exchange rate for the US$ has significantly reduced the Agency's income from its European donors whose united currency witnessed more than 25% decline against the US dollar since its inception in 1999.
In a side meeting between the Commissioner-General and representatives of the host governments and the Palestine Liberation Organization, the delegations reiterated the full support of their governments to UNRWA and to the Commissioner-General's leadership of the Agency in the face of accusations and disruptive statements appearing in the local press. While expressing his belief in orderly dialogue to resolve issues, Mr. Hansen said that he recognized the concern and grievances of UNRWA's area staff over the increase in cost of living in recent years. However, it was important to keep in mind the financial constraints under which the Agency operated. UNRWA's primary concern remained to ensure the continued provision of basic services to the 3.7 million Palestine refugees, of whom 1.2 million still lived in 59 overcrowded refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, the Syrian Arab Republic, and the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
During the press conference held following the morning's session, Mr. Hansen categorically denied rumours that plans existed to phase out the Agency prior to finding a solution to the Palestine refugee problem. "The Agency's 3-year mandate was renewed in 1999 until the end of June 2002 when it will most likely be renewed again if the refugee problem is not solved by then", Mr. Hansen elaborated. The Commissioner-General said that such rumours and unfounded press reports only served to increase the already high level of anxiety and uncertainty among Palestine refugees and hence should not be reproduced without proper verification.
In statement after statement, delegates from donor and host governments reiterated their full support to UNRWA and the need for it to remain a strong institution capable of meeting Palestine refugee needs of health, education, and relief and social services. They also voiced concern over the chronic financial deficit of UNRWA and its effects on the level and quality of services. Speakers also praised the Agency's continuing efforts in management reform, particularly the new budget format. A number of donors took the occasion to announce additional contributions to UNRWA's budget and projects. The details of these additional contributions will be announced separately.
In his concluding remarks, Commissioner-General Peter Hansen thanked all donor and host governments for their continued support to the Agency throughout the Agency's 50 years of operations, reiterating the Agency's commitment to close cooperation and coordination with all parties concerned.