'Commissioner-General's statement on UNRWA and Palestine refugees in today's context
Ministry of Foreign Affairs,
Thank you, Director Rade, for your kind words of introduction, andgood afternoon to you all.I very much appreciate this opportunity to speak to you and exchangeviews on one of the most testing international issues of our day. Themajority of the 4.4 million registered Palestine refugees, for whom myagency is responsible, are located in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, the WestBank and Gaza. Yet for many complex reasons, the Palestine refugeeissue transcends the geographic borders of the Near East, preoccupyingthe Foreign Ministries of the European Union and beyond, and consuminga considerable amount of diplomatic time and resources.The Palestinian question is quintessentially international in nature.It impinges on the principles, law and practice on which the post-1945construct of international relations was established. A shortlist ofthese would include: human rights and fundamental freedoms and theirrelationship to the regional and global security of States; theinternational rule of law and its dependence on a multilateral systemof global governance; the efficacy of international humanitarian lawin the context of a conflict of asymmetrical capabilities; the questto eliminate poverty and achieve human development and now theMillennium Development Goals; and the nexus between the peacefulresolution of disputes, self-determination and durable solutions tothe plight of refugees.When we consider these areas in relation to the Palestinian issue,there is no escaping the sense that something is not quite right. Onewould have expected that an international community that has hastenedthe end of colonialism, the demise of apartheid, the collapse ofcommunist States on the continent in Europe, the dissolution of theUSSR and the conclusion of the cold war might have made moresignificant progress in bringing the Palestinian issue to closure.I would suggest that a solution continues to elude us for reasonslying outside the humanitarian sphere, as that is the one dimension inwhich the international community has on balance been responsive andattentive to the needs of Palestinians and Palestine refugees. Theestablishment of UNRWA and the consistent support it has received fromhost countries and donor governments, not least among them theGovernment of the Netherlands, is evidence of this.At UNRWA, we have taken up the humanitarian and human developmentchallenge of our mandate in earnest, maintaining a range of essentialservices for Palestine refugees and constantly seeking to improve thequality of our work. Through UNRWA's primary and preparatory schools,the human right to =96 and Millennium Development Goal of - free primaryeducation became a reality for Palestine refugee children as far backas the 1950s. Today, nearly half a million of refugees =96 boys andgirls in equal number =96 are educated in UNRWA schools each year,benefiting from courses on human rights, tolerance and conflictresolution that are unique to UNRWA's curriculum. In all of UNRWA'sfive fields our vocational training centres offer youth theopportunity to acquire marketable skills.Again, consistent with the MDG's, UNRWA's primary health programme haseradicated communicable diseases and achieved a close to 100%childhood immunization record. The programme handles nine millionpatient visits annually and is a vital part of the support on whichthe refugee community relies. UNRWA's relief and social services haveensured that the most vulnerable refugees =96 the poor, the elderly andthose with disabilities - receive attention and care to help themcope. We also promote community-based programmes to enhance the skillsand prospects of women and youth.We build and maintain refugee homes and infrastructure, thus helpingto raise living standards and contribute to public and environmentalhealth in and around refugee camps. Through UNRWA's micro-financeprogramme, refugees in the business sector enjoy access to flexiblecredit, enabling them to weather difficult economic circumstances andto generate sustainable livelihoods. In addition to these programmeinterventions, the impact of UNRWA's work is evident in its responseto emergency situations that have arisen in Lebanon and the occupiedPalestinian territory. For refugees most affected by armed conflict,we offer emergency health and shelter programmes, cash and foodassistance to families living in special hardship, and temporary paidpositions for the unemployed.Our efforts to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of ourservices to refugees are part of our drive for comprehensivemanagement reforms =96 which we refer to as our organizationaldevelopment process. We are linking our approach to programme planningand implementation to the human development paradigm. UNRWA emphasizesenhanced life choices and sustainable self reliance for refugees asstrategic goals, and recognizes that our methods for achieving themmust include partnerships with UN and other entities. We appreciatethe significant role that host countries and authorities currentlyplay and are committed to exploring new ways of working with them inthe best interests of Palestine refugees.All UNRWA programmes are constrained by uncertain finances. This year,we anticipate an income shortfall of about 90.5 million euros for ourGeneral Fund budget of approximately 372 million euros. Thesedeficits, which have been an unfortunate feature of UNRWA's financiallife for many years, hamper our ability to maintain essentialeducation and health services to the required standards. Our emergencyprogrammes have shared a similar fate, with a few welcome exceptions.In 2007, our 168 million euro emergency appeal for the occupiedPalestinian territory was in arrears of 72.8 million euros. LastSeptember, we launched a 12-month emergency appeal for 37.6 millioneuros to meet the needs of displaced refugees in northern Lebanon. Wehave received 24 million euros so far and very much hope that thebalance will be forthcoming.UNRWA's immediate focus in Lebanon is on ensuring decent housing andessential services for displaced refugees, planning for their orderlyreturn.The rebuilding of Nahr El Bared promises to be a huge task for UNRWAand the government of Lebanon, an undertaking for which a few hundredmillion dollars will almost certainly be required. A master plan forthe reconstruction effort is being finalized and will be the basis ofa fundraising effort. Beyond Nahr El Bared, UNRWA will continue toimplement existing plans to improve living conditions in the elevenother refugee camps across the country. In this we are conscious thatcamp improvement will not only raise the quality of refugee lives, butwill also contribute to the stability of the community.UNRWA is not alone in ensuring that the relief, humanitarian and humandevelopment needs of Palestinians and Palestine refugees in the NearEast are well served. A variety of UN, non-governmental agencies anddonor entities carry out important work to support governments andauthorities. The Temporary International Mechanism is an example of adonor arrangement which alleviates the effects of sanctions on manythousands of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.I have offered this short sketch of UNRWA's work to show how mucheffort and investment is being made, by and on behalf of theinternational community, to service the humanitarian needs ofPalestinians and Palestine refugees. The results are far from perfect,refugees' living conditions are far from ideal, and too many thousandsof refugees across our five fields still struggle with poverty andlimited life choices. And yet, in spite of the shortcomings, very fewPalestinians doubt the sincerity of humanitarian and human developmentefforts, or question the intentions of agencies leading these effortson behalf of the international community.What about the international community's policies and approach onmatters within the domain of political and diplomatic action? How isthe performance of the international community in these areas judgedby Palestine refugees who mark, this year, the sad anniversary ofsixty years of exile? Integrity and consistency of effort andeven-handedThe fact that no solution to their plight appears readily in prospect,six decades after they were compelled to flee their homes, is ameasure of the frustration refugees feel. The desire for a just andlasting solution has not faded with the passage of time. On thecontrary, that desire intensifies. It is passed on from generation togeneration along with a great deal of incomprehension as to why thisparticular conflict seems beyond the collective will of theinternational community themselves to resolve.The absence of a State of Palestine from the community of nationsmeans the indefinite deferral of the Palestinian right to self-determination.'