The first official visit to the Gaza Strip by UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl has received high-profile coverage in local, regional and international media.
Mr. Krähenbühl vowed to advocate strenuously to end the blockade of Gaza, to improve the quality of UNRWA services to the refugees and to stand against what he called the “collective punishment” suffered by the residents of the besieged Gaza Strip. During a press event at an UNRWA clinic in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip, he said: “Nothing prepares you for Gaza; no amount of UN humanitarian reports, no amount of newspaper articles, no amount of human rights investigations. None of these can adequately convey what the people here are going through; the profound sense of isolation and the sheer scale and depth of the suffering. That is why for me it is important to come here in person, to see for myself, to meet the people of Gaza and UNRWA staff and learn first-hand about what they are going through.” Mr. Krähenbühl said that his visit to the Gaza Strip was to express solidarity and support for Palestine refugees, and to find out the best ways develop UNRWA services to better to help them.
The Commissioner-General said that his first impression during his visit to Gaza was of the fence: “The first thing of course you see of Gaza is the fence around it; a reminder of the blockade, which as my predecessor pointed out recently, has lasted as long as some of the most infamous sieges of contemporary history, such as the siege of Leningrad. It amounts to an illegal collective punishment and I join UN officials and world leaders in calling for it to end. I assure you I will advocate with all the audiences I encounter, for an end to illegality and for steps that respect the dignity and humanity of the people of Gaza”.
He added that the deteriorating humanitarian conditions in the Palestinian enclave were apparent to everybody. UNRWA currently provides aid to some 800,000 refugees in the Gaza Strip, as compared to some 80,000 in 2000, Mr. Krähenbühl said. He promised that UNRWA, despite its limited budget, would do its best to reach more poor people in Gaza.
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$ 68.2 million.
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