22 November 2012
Just hours after the ceasefire between Hamas and Israel was announced, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) returned to work in the war-scarred Gaza Strip. UNRWA schools, where some 10,000 people displaced by the violence took refuge, are now virtually empty as families returned to their homes to take stock of the damage.
Read more: Emergency in Gaza
The Agency has announced that all 245 of its schools will open on Saturday and that classes for some 225,000 students will resume. UNRWA, which currently has a counsellor in most of its schools, will additionally step up its psycho-social support in the wake of the fighting, offering increased services to traumatised children.
“I would like to pay tribute to UNRWA’s 12,000-strong Gaza team for their courage and commitment, delivering assistance -- in some cases quite literally under fire -- during the past eight days”, said Director of UNRWA Operations in Gaza Robert Turner. “And of course I want to offer my condolences again to the families of staff members and refugees who lost loved ones. My heart goes out to them.”
UNRWA has already begun assessing damage to refugee shelters and will now start providing cash for rent if homes are destroyed, or support to repair damaged buildings.
During the latest round of fighting, UNRWA was able to maintain health care in 19 centres, food distribution to 800,000 refugees, and the provision of essential sanitation services.
Commenting on the longer-term prospects for Gaza, UNRWA Commissioner-General Filippo Grandi said, “As we continue with our immediate emergency and recovery work, we must not forget that almost every humanitarian and economic indicator shows a very bleak outlook. If anyone has doubts, they should look no further than the UN report Gaza 2020: A Liveable Place?. It is a stark reminder of the long road ahead.”
Just yesterday, Grandi joined UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and his delegation at talks in Ramallah, which were part of the shuttle diplomacy that led to the ceasefire. He and Turner briefed the Secretary General, putting centre stage the plight of the people of Gaza and the urgent need for long-term solutions.
“Just as it did during the last Gaza war, UNRWA has shown its commitment, courage, and ingenuity in standing shoulder to shoulder with Palestine refugees. This latest conflict underlines yet again the need for a just and durable solution to their plight”, concluded Grandi.
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, microfinance and emergency assistance.
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, supporting UNRWA’s core activities and 97 per cent reliant on voluntary contributions, has begun each year with a large projected deficit. Currently the budget deficit stands at USD 21 million.
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