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  • 13:16 - 9 November 2022

Palestine Refugee Agency Appeals for Substantial Funding Boost as Fourth Committee Speakers Support its Mandate Renewal

New York, (Drah-agencies)--

SEVENTY-SEVENTH SESSION,

22ND & 23RD MEETINGS (AM & PM)

GA/SPD/768

Chronic Deficit Sowing Despair Among Palestinians, Delegates Warn

With its mandate up for renewal by the General Assembly, and demands for its services growing, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) urgently requires a substantial capital injection to lift it out of a chronic budget deficit, its head told the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) today.

Philippe Lazzarini, Commissioner-General of UNRWA, presenting its annual report (document A/77/13), said that for far too long, the Agency has been expected to manage chronic underfunding while at the same time delivering on its mandate. Emphasizing that UNRWA, which relies on voluntary contributions, is short by about $100 million every year, he appealed for more funds so that it can implement its digital strategy, deliver on environmental sustainability commitments and replace obsolete basic assets while also promoting the rights and well-being of Palestine refugees.

“The size, scale and scope of our operation deserves an additional $100 million per year,” he said, emphasizing that the amount must be “a game-changer”. “If anything, $100 million is very little in return for the protection of rights and contribution to regional stability that the Agency brings through its presence and operations.”

During an interactive dialogue, he said that he was unsure whether the Agency, whose protection mandate covers 5.8 million registered Palestine refugees, can pay staff salaries in full in November and December. “When we talk about salary, we talk about critical services, we talk about our ability to continue to run the schools, the health services,” he said.

Anne Havn (Norway), speaking in her capacity as Rapporteur of the Working Group on the Financing of UNRWA, presented that body’s report (document A/77/314). She emphasized that it is the responsibility of the Assembly and the international community to ensure that the Agency’s services are maintained at an acceptable level. She expressed support for UNRWA’s fundraising efforts and urged all Governments to increase and sustain their voluntary contributions.

During the ensuing general debate, speakers took turns voicing support for UNRWA and calling for its three-year mandate to be renewed. They suggested ways to put the Agency on a better financial footing, including drawing from the United Nations’ regular budget. They also took the opportunity to reiterate support for the two-State solution to resolve the question of Palestine.

Palestine’s observer warned that any further reduction of UNRWA’s programmes will heighten a sense of despair among Palestine refugees and fears that the world is turning its back on them. The Agency’s chronic underfunding, the consequent stresses on its staff and the refugee community, and worries of more to come are inevitably stoking fear, she said, adding that securing more predictable, sufficient and sustained funding is crucial.

Azerbaijan’s representative, speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, urged the Assembly to follow up on the Secretary-General’s recommendations to ensure more sufficient, predictable and sustained funding and for UNRWA’s mandate to be extended until 30 June 2026. UNRWA will remain essential and indispensable until a just and lasting solution to the question of Palestine, including the plight of Palestine refugees, is found.

Saudi Arabia’s representative, speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, rejected and condemned Israel’s attempts to obstruct and close UNRWA services in Jerusalem and to replace the Agency with Israeli entities, especially with regard to education. He too called on all countries and donors to provide more financial support to UNRWA to enable it to perform its humanitarian mission and fulfil the mandate given to it by the Assembly.

Israel’s representative, however, said that UNRWA’s budget crisis is a “crisis that cannot be solved” as long as its problematic practices and distorted definition of refugees continue. She urged the United Nations to address the use of UNRWA’s infrastructure by Hamas to carry out acts of terror. Israeli is a partner for peace, she said, emphasizing the need to abandon a narrative of conflict, incitement and terror and focus instead on tolerance and dialogue.

The United States’ representative warned of terrible looming consequences from rising humanitarian needs compounded by ongoing austerity measures. He encouraged all donors, especially those who have not yet given and those who have reduced their contributions, to support the agency’s core services. Donors must provide more flexible and sustained voluntary funding to UNRWA to alleviate its financial challenges, he said.

In other business, the Committee today concluded its general debate on peacekeeping operations in all their aspects, which began on 1 November.

Also speaking during the general debate on UNRWA were representatives of Mexico, Egypt, Iraq, Viet Nam, South Africa, Colombia, Cuba, Saudi Arabia (on behalf of the Gulf Cooperation Council and in its national capacity), Jordan, United Arab Emirates, Senegal, Syria, Pakistan, Qatar, Tunisia, Lebanon, Thailand, Namibia, Bangladesh, Yemen, Algeria, Romania, Kuwait, Indonesia, India, China, Japan, Morocco, Malaysia, Türkiye, Norway and Sudan, as well as the European Union in its capacity of observer.

The Permanent Observer of the Holy See also spoke, as did the Permanent Observer of the League of Arab States.

The representative of Israel and the observer of Palestine spoke in exercise of the right of reply.

Speaking during the general debate on peacekeeping were the representatives of Gambia, Ghana, Bahamas (on behalf of the Caribbean Community), India and Sri Lanka.

The Permanent Observer of the Holy See also spoke, as did representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross and the International Organization of the Francophonie.

The Fourth Committee will reconvene at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, 9 November, to take up its agenda item on Israeli practices and settlement activities affecting the rights of the Palestinian people and other Arabs of the territories.

Opening Remarks

MOHAMED AL HASSAN (Oman), Committee Chair, recalled that the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) is mandated by the General Assembly to assist more than 5.4 million Palestine refugees, who account for over 20 per cent of refugees worldwide. In the face of its ongoing financial crisis, UNRWA has undertaken exceptional internal efforts to control costs, he said. It has also engaged in significant outreach to Member States and regional groups, he added, applauding the many Member States that have stepped up to contribute in order to preserve UNRWA’s vital services.

Briefing

PHILIPPE LAZZARINI, Commissioner-General, United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), presented the Agency’s latest report (document A/77/314), saying that he hoped that today’s Committee meeting will acknowledge its irreplaceable role and lead to a resounding vote in the General Assembly to renew its mandate for another three years. This year has been difficult for Palestine refugees across the region as they faced more challenges to the fulfilment of their basic rights, with poverty made worse by the socioeconomic ramifications of the COVID‑19 pandemic and the impact of the war in Ukraine on employment, prices and soaring inflation. Nearly all refugees now rely on the UNRWA food basket, and there is unsurmountable pressure on UNRWA to do more. However, the Agency’s financial situation is tying its hands, making it unable to support a community that has reached rock-bottom, he said.

Despite this bleak daily reality, UNRWA continues to make a difference for millions of Palestine refugees, he said. Close to two million Palestine refugees access quality primary health care in UNRWA health centres, while a like number of the poorest refugees receive cash or food assistance. To do all this, UNRWA has never ceased to innovate, he said. The Agency is pioneering digital health care in the developing world and is sharing its knowledge with host countries and the wider development community. Meanwhile, shifting geopolitical priorities and regional dynamics have deprioritized the Israel-Palestine conflict, with a growing number of competing crises over the last decade sadly increasing indifference towards the plight of Palestine refugees, he said.

For far too long, the Agency has been expected to manage chronic underfunding while at the same time delivering on its mandate with quality and modernization, he continued. Today, austerity is biting at the quality of services and undermining staff morale. Over the last 10 years, and despite active and continuous outreach, an annual funding deficit of around $100 million has forced UNRWA to operate within very strict financial constraints. Today, it needs a substantial capital injection to implement its digital strategy, deliver on United Nations environmental sustainability commitments, replace basic assets such as vehicles and computers that have become obsolete and continue to promote the rights and well-being of the refugees. “The size, scale and scope of our operation deserves an additional $100 million per year,” he said. “If anything, $100 million is very little in return for the protection of rights and contribution to regional stability that the Agency brings through its presence and operations.”

The Agency is unique within the United Nations system as it relies almost exclusively on voluntary funding, he said, emphasizing that the chronic financial shortfall undermines its ability to fulfil its mandate while also threatening its stabilizing role in the region. The Agency needs to be put back on sustainable financial footing to ensure that it can carry out its mandate. “To be meaningful, the amount must be a game-changer,” he stressed. “Palestine refugees need to be reassured that the United Nations and its Member States care and remain committed to their plight.”

Interactive Dialogue

When the floor opened for an interactive dialogue, the observer for the State of Palestine thanked UNRWA’s leadership and staff and noted the Agency’s immense contribution to the sustenance and resilience of Palestine refugees. The renewal of its mandate comes at a historical juncture, she said, calling for political support from the international community. Noting the Agency’s efforts to diversify funding, she expressed gratitude to those countries that concluded multi-year funding agreements, increased their funding commitments or made first-time commitments. Expressing regret that UNRWA continues to be hampered by insufficient funding and is solely reliant on voluntary contributions, she asked the Commissioner-General to elaborate on UNRWA’s funding needs and to address the matter of additional costs that continue to rise from restrictions imposed on it, such as on the movement of goods, the closure of refugee camps and undue taxation.

The representative of the European Union, speaking in its capacity as observer, said that UNRWA is an essential provider of vital services to millions of Palestine refugees and a stabilizing force in the region. Her bloc will continue to support the Agency in all its fields of operations, including in East Jerusalem, she said, noting that, together with its member States, the Union is the largest contributor to the Agency. Noting the need for additional financial support, she called upon partners including Arab Gulf States to increase their contributions to UNRWA.

The representative of Türkiye, praising the leadership of this “irreplaceable humanitarian Agency”, asked what Member States can do to better support UNRWA’s efforts to provide sustainable and predictable services.

Mr. LAZZARINI, responding to those questions and comments, said that UNRWS’s financial shortfall is between $100 million and $130 million, adding that he was unsure if the Agency has the cash it needs to pay staff salaries in full in November and December. “When we talk about salary, we talk about critical services, we talk about our ability to continue to run the schools, the health services.” Stressing once again the need for more predictable funding, he proposed that assessed contributions could be one option. On the one hand, UNRWA is requested to run public services, but on the other hand, it lacks the financial or fiscal tools of a State. Unable to borrow money, it fully depends on voluntary contributions from its members. That funding model has functioned for about 60 years, but for about a decade it has been questioned. This is why it is so important to renew the commitment to the plight of the Palestine refugees through an extension of UNRWA’s mandate, accompanied by a genuine will to increase financial contributions, he said.

The representative of Lebanon, noting that the word “discrimination” appears in the report with regard to the situation of Palestine refugees in Lebanon, explained that their situation is special as they have lived in the country for decades. He asked whether it was just to use that term when Lebanon has been providing for Palestine refugees, giving them access to superior education and subsidies to obtain higher-level certificates.

The observer of the League of Arab States, underscoring the League’s support for the Agency at all levels, said it was possible for UNRWA to draw from the Central Emergency Fund and that $62 million had been borrowed. Has this been reimbursed? he asked, wondering why UNRWA needed to borrow. He added that Israel is imposing fees on UNRWA cargo at certain border points, counter to all humanitarian decisions adopted by the United Nations and the principles of international humanitarian law. How could these measures be addressed? he asked, suggesting that those fees could be taken from Israel’s contribution to the Organization.

The representative of Canada said his country is delivering on its commitment to provide $90 million dollars to UNRWA. Canada’s engagement with UNRWA includes specific support to help it uphold United Nations values, he said, asking how this work was progressing and what impact it will have on the Agency’s work going forward.

Mr. LAZZARINI noted that, as with other agencies, there are limits to the amount and duration of loans available to UNRWA. The Agency went through the Central Emergency Fund at a time when it was unable to pay salaries properly. There is a cumbersome tax system in place, he said, adding that he has discussed this with the relevant authorities. While the outcome of this process is not yet known, “I can tell you that our hope and our objective is indeed to have a simplified system in the future.” He added that Lebanon is an “extraordinary model” of hosting large groups of refugees. Noting the presence of not only Palestine refugees but also Syrian refugees, he acknowledged the complexity of the country’s history. The word “discrimination” appears in the report as there are some policies in Lebanon which impact Palestine refugees’ ability to economically better themselves. While there is no barrier to education, they cannot access certain job market segments, nor can they buy property or houses. Further, Palestine refugees in Lebanon have the most difficult living conditions across the region, he said.

Introduction of Report

ANNE HAVN (Norway), Rapporteur of the Working Group on the Financing of UNRWA, presented that body’s latest report (document A/77/314), noting that the Agency’s financial difficulties have been further exacerbated due to increasing needs, population growth and rising operating costs. Stressing that it is the responsibility of the General Assembly and the international community to ensure that the Agency’s services are maintained at an acceptable level, she expressed support for its fundraising efforts and urged all Governments to increase and sustain their voluntary contributions.

Calling on Member States to contribute to the Agency's three funding portals, she highlighted the need to fully fund its programme budget first and foremost. In that regard, she called for the swift disbursement of announced contributions. Government contributions should keep pace with the Agency’s requirements while taking the effects of inflation and other factors into account. Contributions should also reflect appropriate international burden-sharing, she said, commending UNRWA for its efforts to increase efficiency while maintaining the quality of services and increasing transparency through its reporting to the International Aid Transparency Initiative.

FEDA ABDELHADY-NASSER, an observer for the State of Palestine, stated that for over seven decades, UNRWA has been a lifeline for Palestine refugees. Without UNRWA, their plight would be even more unbearable and tragic and the Middle East even more turbulent, with consequences far beyond the region. Over 80 per cent of Palestine refugees in Gaza, more than half of them children, and those in Syria and Lebanon now live in poverty. As instability and wants rise, despair also rises, especially among youth, who are more prone to hopelessness and radicalization. Any further reduction of UNRWA programmes will heighten the sense of despair among Palestine refugees and fears that the world is turning its back on them, she said. The chronic, structural underfunding of UNRWA, consequent stresses on the Agency’s staff and refugee community and worries of more to come inevitably stoke these fears. Securing more predictable, sufficient and sustained funding for UNRWA is therefore crucial, she said.

A strong message must be sent that the international community is rallying to ensure the continuity of UNRWA services for Palestine refugees, she insisted. UNRWA remains essential until a just solution for the Palestine refugee question is achieved, in conformity with General Assembly resolution 194 (III). She concluded by reiterating the State of Palestine’s call to the international community to marshal the political will to uphold the rule of law, including measures of accountability, to bring an end to Israel’s violations of the human rights of the Palestinian people.

YASHAR T. ALIYEV (Azerbaijan), speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, said that UNRWA’s mandate and operations will remain essential and indispensable until a just and lasting solution to the question of Palestine, including the plight of Palestine refugees, is found. He reaffirmed the urgency of providing the Agency with sustained, predictable and uninterrupted support, including expanded budgetary support from the United Nations. Greater efforts must also be made to ensure stability and peace for both the region and the millions of people that UNRWA serves every day, he said, emphasizing that Palestine refugees face serious protection challenges arising from instability, violence and declining socioeconomic conditions that lead to further marginalization and poverty.

Underscoring the impact of more than 55 years of Israeli occupation, he said that the rights of the Palestinian people are being trampled upon as the occupying Power pursues an illegal settlement campaign and further entrenches its occupation of Palestinian land. An immediate lifting of Israel’s blockade of Gaza is the only way for the Palestine refugee population there to be less dependent on UNRWA. Reiterating the Movement’s serious concern about UNRWA’s financial shortfalls, including a forecast 2022 programme budget deficit of more than $100 million, he urged the General Assembly to follow up on the Secretary-General’s recommendations to ensure more sufficient, predictable and sustained funding for the duration of the Agency’s mandate and for that mandate to be extended until 30 June 2026.

ABDULAZIZ M. ALWASIL (Saudi Arabia), speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, emphasized the need to act for generations of Palestine refugees and their descendants, and their right to return to their homes in accordance with relevant General Assembly resolutions and the Arab Peace Initiative. He expressed support for UNRWA and those countries hosting refugees, adding that the Agency must continue to provide services for Palestine refugees in all its areas of operations until the refugee issue is resolved. Voicing deep concern about living conditions in refugee camps, he called for the provision of all necessary services to support the livelihood of refugees, especially in Syria, in Lebanon and in the occupied Palestinian territory.

The Arab Group rejects and condemns Israel’s systemic attempts to obstruct and close UNRWA services in Jerusalem and its attempts to replace the Agency with Israeli occupation agencies, especially with regard to education and curricula, he said. Turning to UNRWA’s annual budget deficit, he called for the international community to secure the necessary resources and financial contributions to enable the Agency to proceed in an adequate, sustainable and predictable manner. The Arab Group also calls on all countries and donors to provide more financial support to UNRWA to enable it to perform its humanitarian mission and fulfil the mandate given to it by the Assembly. He concluded by calling on all Member States to vote in favour of the draft resolution to extend UNRWA’s mandate.

MARY CLUNE, representative of the European Union, in its capacity of observer, said it is of utmost importance that UNRWA continues to provide Palestine refugees with the necessary protection and essential services. It is an essential provider of vital services to millions of Palestine refugees and a stabilizing force in the region. The provision of health services for all refugees, and education for young Palestinians, is important not only in Gaza and Syria, but also in Jordan, Lebanon and the West Bank including East Jerusalem.

She reiterated the bloc’s deep appreciation for the generosity and efforts of host countries in support of the Agency and the welfare of Palestine refugees. The European Union remains a staunch and predictable supporter of UNRWA, both politically and financially, she said, adding that as they did last year, the bloc and its member States continue to answer the Agency’s call for additional funds.

BRUNO RÍOS SÁNCHEZ (Mexico) said the Agency's role will remain indispensable as long as the final status of Palestine refugees remains unresolved. He reaffirmed the need to ensure sustainable funding for UNRWA to carry out its work, with particular attention given to vital services such as health and education. In 2022, Mexico will maintain its voluntary contribution of $750,000 to the Agency, he said, adding that the parties to the conflict must ensure free movement and access of personnel and humanitarian assistance so that the basic needs of the Palestinian population can be met.

MOHAMED KAMAL ALI ELHOMOSANY (Egypt), emphasizing that the international community must support UNRWA, drew attention to Israeli practices in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and its unilateral practices, documented in United Nations reports, which undermine prospects for the two-State solution. The Agency is a successful model of how to provide education and health services to refugees, he said, adding that it plays a noble role. He emphasized that the situation in the region as a whole is a burden on UNRWA’s ability to provide support, adding that while its budget deficit has grown, its humanitarian role cannot be replaced.

YAARB AHMED NASER AL-TEMEMY (Iraq) said that reforms made to UNRWA to guarantee a focus on economic development, sustainable partnerships, and children and youth are a positive step. The establishment of an independent Palestinian State with East Jerusalem as its capital remains the ideal. The State of Palestine should be granted full membership in the United Nations, without restriction or preconditions, he said, adding that UNRWA represents a humanitarian and legal way for the international community to carry out its responsibility to end the Occupation.

NGOC THUY DO (Viet Nam) noted that in the 70 years since the Palestinian exodus began, countless Palestinians have grown up, aged and even died in camps. Stressing that UNRWA has proven to be an essential provider of vital services to millions of Palestine refugees, he said it is essential to continue its services, including providing healthcare for all refugees and education for young Palestinian children, not only in the occupied Palestinian territory but also in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. South Africa supports a renewal of UNRWA’s mandate, but that alone is not sufficient, he said, calling upon all the donors to guarantee predictable and sustained funding. He went on to say that all barriers to economic development, including occupation policies that limit movement and transportation of goods, must be removed.

TIYANI RAYMOND SITHOLE (South Africa), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, commended UNRWA’s contributions to improving the living conditions of Palestine refugees and alleviating the dire condition in the occupied Palestinian territory. Sufficient, sustainable and predictable funding would enable over half a million children to receive quality education, he said, also pointing to the Agency’s medical clinics, food assistance and social services to millions of refugees in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Palestine. Peace in Israel and Palestine is inextricably linked to peace in the region, he said, adding that UNRWA’s continued existence is linked to the continuation of Israel's occupation of Palestinian land.

FRANCISCO JAVIER GUTIÉRREZ PLATA (Colombia) reaffirmed his country’s support for a peaceful, definitive and comprehensive solution to the question of Palestine on the basis of the two-State solution. He stressed the importance of preserving and strengthening security guarantees alongside full respect for the rights of the whole population with the clear aim of preventing future hostilities in the Middle East. He reiterated Colombia’s support for the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and to establish an independent State that is recognized by all other States. He also underscored Colombia’s support for Israel’s right to live in peace within safe and internationally recognized borders.

YUMIRKA FERNÁNDEZ PALACIOS (Cuba) said there is no doubt that the lack of a political solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict and the lack of sufficient funding for UNRWA are causing widespread fear and worry with regard to the future of Palestine refugees. What the Agency’s staff is doing on the ground is admirable and warrants a particular tribute. The attempts by one of UNRWA’s largest contributors to shutter the Agency have failed and become history, she said, adding that UNRWA continues to exist, and Palestine refugees continue to have their needs addressed. Going forward, it is necessary to ensure that the Agency's work can continue, she said, supporting a renewal of its mandate.

MOHAMMED ABDULAZIZ H. ALATEEK (Saudi Arabia), speaking on behalf of the Gulf Cooperation Council, said the situation of Palestine refugees is a crucial one for Arab countries, which support the right of the Palestinians to live in their own State in line with international resolutions and pre-1967 borders. The member States of the Gulf Cooperation Council reaffirm their support to their Palestinian brothers, providing support to UNRWA on the basis of a principled position. He added that the occupying Power must also respond to calls for peace and undertake good-faith negotiations on the basis of the two-State solution to ensure peace in the Middle East.

Speaking in his national capacity, he noted that Saudi Arabia is one of the largest donors to UNRWA, reflecting its commitment to the Palestinian cause to ensure that they can achieve their legitimate aspirations and enable the return of refugees to their own territory. Saudi Arabia will continue to support Palestine refugees, who have suffered for more than seven decades. The international community must find lasting solutions to the UNRWA’s challenges, guarantee its role and enable it to carry out its work despite persistent Israeli violations, a lack of funding and pandemic-related restrictions, he said.

SULTAN NATHEIR MUSTAFA ALQAISI (Jordan), emphasizing that UNRWA’s work remains vital in the region, said the Agency’s budgetary gap and shortfall must be made up so that it can continue to provide health, education and other services in line with its mandate. Financial and political support must be reflected in a vote in favour of the renewal of its mandate and through increased financial support through the United Nations regular budget. He noted that Jordan and Norway will propose a draft resolution in that regard, in line with the outcome of a ministerial meetings held jointly by those two countries.

Mr. ALHOSANI (United Arab Emirates) praised UNRWA’s efforts to ensure sustainable development for Palestine refugees. Noting the pandemic’s repercussions on the Agency’s work, he said that his Government prioritizes the Palestinian question in its international efforts to enable lasting peace. The United Arab Emirates supports the regional office of UNRWA and its operations, and it has provided $684 million to the Agency since 2016. His country provides humanitarian assistance as part of its foreign policy, which does not discriminate on the basis of religion or language, he said, also pointing to the United Arab Emirates’ support for Palestine refugees in other forums. He also underscored the importance of opening crossing points in the Gaza Strip, emphasizing that this is essential to breathe life into the Palestinian economy.

FATIMATOU FAYE (Senegal), associating herself with the Non-Aligned Movement, said that the international community has witnessed the suffering of the Palestinian people since 1945. Noting the growing feeling of an existential crisis that will scar thousands of Palestinian youth, she added that supporting the Agency is the best comfort that the international community can provide while the search for a lasting political solution continues. Given the Agency’s now-chronic financial problem, it is vital that Member States maintain their firm support to ensure adequate, predictable and lasting resources for the Agency. Highlighting the Agency’s contributions to education, health care and sustainable development, she said that 5.8 million people depend daily on its services. “We are not doing any favours to Palestinians,” she said, adding that supporting UNRWA is merely a small attempt to rectify in a small way a human tragedy that has lasted far too long.

Ms. ALI (Syria) said Israel, the occupying Power, is and always has been the one reason behind the ongoing tragedy of the Palestinian people. The occupying Power expelled the Palestinians from their homes under the threat of killing, persecution, terrorism and daily aggression, turning them into long-term refugees. The question of Palestine refugees is a legal, ethical, political, and international responsibility, and not simply a humanitarian matter. Syria will continue to host Palestine refugees until they can return to their homeland and it will provide them with all types of support and services. The suffering of the Palestinian people in Syria is the result of armed terrorist groups which have attacked refugee camps, used them as human shields and prevented them access to humanitarian assistance. She went on to urge the United Nations and Secretary-General to take immediate and urgent measures to fill UNRWA’s budget gap.

BILAL MAHMOOD CHAUDHARY (Pakistan) said that the Israeli blockade of Gaza, compounded by the pandemic’s impact, drastically limited the economic activity in that territory and impeded UNRWA's operations there. He reiterated Pakistan’s deep concern over restrictions imposed on Palestine refugees and UNRWA staff within the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem. It is extremely important that Israel, the occupying Power, meet its obligations under international humanitarian and refugee law, he said, stressing that the humanitarian needs of Palestine refugees cannot be mortgaged to political experience, parties and interests. Diversifying UNRWA’s donor base and adopting responsible investment strategies are valuable initiatives, especially in these challenging times, he said.

Mr. Al KUBAISI (Qatar) said that there is no alternative to UNRWA, which has helped to ease the suffering of millions despite a scarcity of financial resources. It is imperative that the General Assembly renew its mandate until a just and lasting solution is found in the form of the two-State solution. UNRWA is facing an existential crisis as it suffers from a chronic deficit that adversely affects its programme budget and threatens its operational activities. Qatar will share the burden, he said, noting that his country has increased its contribution to the Agency.

Mr. SALAH (Tunisia), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement and the Arab Group, said that UNRWA provides vital services ranging from emergency humanitarian aid to education. Expressing concern about the Agency’s worsening its financial situation and the repercussions that can have on its activities, he warned that restricting its role could cause instability throughout the region. Thanking donors and host States, he called for efforts to address the Agency’s chronic budget deficit. Long-term solutions are essential, he said, welcoming UNRWA’s efforts to broaden the donor base, including through partnerships with international financial institutions. Highlighting its efficiency and transparency, he called for an extension of UNRWA’s mandate and expressed solidarity with the Palestinian struggle.

JEANNE MRAD (Lebanon), associating herself with the Non-Aligned Movement and the Arab Group, said UNRWA’s chronic deficit is untenable as it threatens the provision of services to millions of Palestine refugees. Noting that the deficit is reaching record levels, she noted its impact on host countries as well as on the fundamental rights of Palestine refugees. Highlighting the international community’s collective responsibility to guarantee UNRWA’s funding, she added that its budget must be balanced. Noting the high-level ministerial meeting held by Jordan and Sweden at which several Member States announced they would be making additional contributions to the Agency, she called on all States to meet their commitments. “We must not harm the role and mandate of the Agency,” she stressed, voicing support for extending UNRWA’s mandate and rejecting politicized attacks on the Agency by Israel. Drawing attention to various Assembly resolutions, she commended UNRWA and its staff for their efforts as well as the great sacrifices being made to support refugees.

VATHAYUDH VICHANKAIYAKIJ (Thailand), commending UNRWA for its hard work and dedication, said Palestine refugees will continue to suffer as long as peace is not yet attained. Thailand supports the renewal of UNRWA’s mandate until June 2026, he said, adding that when it comes to humanitarian needs, no one region is more important than another or should be given a higher priority. Thailand has been making voluntary contributions in support of UNRWA since 1978 and recently renewed its multi-year pledge for the period 2022 to 2026 for a total of $200,000. He encouraged UNRWA’s effort to broaden and diversify its donor base, including cooperation with the private sector, as well as its ongoing reforms to enhance its efficiency.

HELENA NDAPEWA KUZEE (Namibia) said that UNRWA is integral to supporting the achievement of a just, lasting, comprehensive and peaceful solution to the question of Palestine, she said, emphasizing that if the Agency were not supported, an already fragile and volatile situation might have deteriorated significantly. Noting that UNRWA operates under significant constraints, she stressed the need for more predictable funding through the Organization’s regular budget and assessed contributions. The number of Palestine refugees in need grows every year and it is clear that more support is needed, she said, adding that Namibia supports a renewal of UNRWA’s mandate.

MUHAMMAD ABDUL MUHITH (Bangladesh) said the appalling humanitarian and human rights situation in Palestine demand serious attention from the international community to ensure critical humanitarian and essential services. Underscoring UNRWA’s invaluable role, he said the Agency has been a source of hope for Palestinians and that its challenges must be addressed appropriately to maintain regional stability. In ensuring a life with safety, dignity, prosperity and well-being for the Palestinian people, the Israeli occupation must end and the two-State solution achieved, he said.

ABDULRAHMAN HASAN YAHYA AL-BARATI (Yemen) said UNRWA should be supported so that it could provide services to refugees in the five areas of occupation, including East Jerusalem, until such time as a just solution to the Palestinian question is achieved. He condemned Israel’s systematic campaign against UNRWA, including the replacement of UNRWA schools with Israeli ones. The international community should support the Agency in a sustainable way, while the Government of Israel must bear responsibility for the non-provision of services to Palestinians. He added that Israel must stop taxing UNRWA humanitarian assistance and make reparations.

RAHMA SAMAI (Algeria), associating herself with the Arab Group and the Non-Aligned Movement, highlighted the challenges along the path to a political resolution of the conflict, including socioeconomic crises stemming from the pandemic that have pushed Palestine refugees aside. Recalling that UNRWA suffers from constant stagnation and a shortage of funds, including funding interruptions that led to its budget deficit, she encouraged the implementation of internal administrative reforms to improve efficiency and transparency. She also stressed the importance of ongoing financial support for UNRWA and reiterated that the State of Palestine should become a permanent member of the United Nations.

Ms. MOCANY (Romania), associating herself with the European Union, reiterated support for a durable solution grounded on a just, comprehensive and lasting agreement based on a two-State solution as the only viable option responding to the aspirations of both sides. In accordance with a tradition of support towards UNRWA’s activities, Romania has contributed €200,000 to the Agency, an increase from previous years. She recognized the need of supporting the organization’s mandate and encouraged the international community to do its utmost to ensure that UNRWA continue to operate until a just, fair, agreed and realistic solution to the Palestine refugees is finally reached in the framework of a two-State solution.

Mr. ALSWAGH (Kuwait), associating himself with the Arab Group, the Gulf Cooperation Council and the Non-Aligned Movement, said his country refuses any attempt to change UNRWA’s mandate, alter its functions or transfer its responsibilities to another authority. Expressing concern over the worsening circumstances in the camps, particularly in Syria, Lebanon and the occupied Palestinian territories, he said the international community must assist UNRWA so that it can fulfil its broad mandate. Denouncing attempts by Israel to hinder UNRWA’s services and to replace it with its own institutions, particularly in education, he called on Member States to vote in favour of a draft resolution to extend the Agency’s mandate. He further asked the occupying authorities to seriously take part in negotiations to bring about peace based on the two-State solution.

SUPRIYANTO SUWITO (Indonesia), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, said UNRWA constantly faces financial challenges, leaving 5 million refugees in hundreds of camps over five territories under threat. Noting that concrete political and financial commitments toward UNRWA must be realized, he added that the United Nations could do more by increasing the agency’s budget. Pointing to the need to review UNRWA’s mandate, structure and operation as well as its financial sustainability, he encouraged the Agency to broaden its donor base and explore innovative sources of funding, including by engaging with international financial institutions as well as the private sector. The international community must ensure that the occupying Power respects international laws and adheres to all relevant United Nations resolutions, he added.

AMARNATH ASOKAN (India), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, reaffirmed India's commitment to the peaceful resolution of the Palestine question and support for a two-State solution. He stressed UNRWA’s critical role as a provider of development, humanitarian and social services to Palestine refugees and in preserving stability in the region. Supporting the extension of its mandate till June 2026, he appreciated the Agency’s steps to ensure transparency and that aid is not misappropriated for wrongful purposes. Turning to UNRWA’s financial crisis, he said India has contributed $20 million over the last four years and that it has fully disbursed its 2022 pledge of $5 million.

GUI DAN (China) said that despite the rising humanitarian needs of Palestine refugees, investments from the international community are waning. She called for sufficient political support to UNRWA, coupled with predictable financial support. She also called for assistance to be extended to those countries hosting Palestine refugees, such as Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, and for the United Nations and the international community to help rebuild Gaza. She urged Israel to cooperate in the delivery of humanitarian assistance in the occupied Palestinian territory, ensure the unimpeded work of UNRWA and lift the blockade on Gaza as soon as possible. Noting China’s own contributions to UNRWA, she said that the fact that the Palestine refugee issue has dragged on for over 70 years is the result of the failure to implement a two-State solution.

CHRISTOPHER P. LU (United States), reiterating his country’s support to UNRWA as its largest single donor, warned of the terrible looming consequences from rising humanitarian needs compounded by ongoing austerity measures. As the Agency needs more support to help meet the needs of Palestine refugees, all donors – especially those who have not yet given and those who have reduced their contributions – should support its core services. Many countries offer rhetorical support but do not match their words with financial support, he said. Donors must provide more flexible and sustained voluntary funding to UNRWA to alleviate its financial challenges, he added.

TAMAURA SHU (Japan) underscored the continuation of UNRWA’s mandate as a humanitarian imperative which is also vital to regional stability. In spotlighting Japan’s long-standing support to the Agency, he expressed his concern that the Israel-Palestine conflict is becoming less of a priority for the international community due to the emergence of new humanitarian crises and geopolitical divides. Soaring global food and fuel prices are making life more difficult for Palestine refugees, he added. As such, Japan will continue to work with partners in the Middle East and Asia to ensure financial sustainability, he said, commending UNRWA’s progress in ensuring transparency and accountability. As discussions must focus on a sustainable financial model, Japan has been working on broadening UNRWA’s donor base through various initiatives to leverage the resources and expertise of East Asian countries to support the economic development of Palestine refugees. A smooth mandate renewal will enable UNRWA to continue its important work, he said.

HIND JERBOUI (Morocco), noting that the Palestinian question is a central question for the Middle East, reiterated that there is no alternative to a just peace built on a two-State solution. The deadlock that has affected the peace process is responsible for the increasing rate of violence, she said, cautioning against fuelling further extremist conflicts in the region. She noted that the King of Morocco is Chair of the Al-Quds Committee, which is committed to the sanctity of Jerusalem and its shared heritage, which is an example of the peaceful coexistence of the three monotheistic religions. She commended UNRWA for its important role in providing education, health and social services to millions of Palestine refugees, adding that the Agency must have the resources it needs to fulfil its noble mandate.

SYED MOHAMAD HASRIN AIDID (Malaysia), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, expressed concern over the deteriorating situation in the occupied Palestinian territory. He condemned Israel’s flagrant violations, including restrictions on the movement of UNRWA personnel and goods, for impeding humanitarian assistance and worsening the Agency’s financial situation. Highlighting Malaysia’s support for and solidarity with the Palestinian people, he encouraged all countries to assist the Agency, adding that a renewal of its three-year mandate will enable it to provide vital services to Palestine refugees until a just and lasting solution is reached.

CEREN HANDE ÖZGÜR (Türkiye), voicing her support for the renewal of UNRWA’s mandate, highlighted the need to ensure its financial stability. This will enable the Agency to continue providing a lifeline to millions of refugees while serving as a stabilizing force in the region, she noted. Underscoring her country’s financial and in-kind contributions to UNRWA, she encouraged other donors to provide financial support as well. She also expressed support for the Secretary-General’s recommendation to increase UNRWA’s assessed contributions from the regular budget.

REUT SHAPIR BEN NAFTALY (Israel) said that while the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) assists millions of refugees worldwide, the United Nations decided that the Palestinian people deserve differential treatment. “Israel has never thought to hurt the assistance offered to the Palestinians,” she said, recognizing that the international community should always provide humanitarian aid to those in need. The ongoing discussion is about whether States continue to sponsor the “relics of the past” and misuse donors’ funds and whether UNRWA is the most effective organization to deliver for the Palestinian people, she said.

When UNHCR works to mitigate the numbers of refugees, often by means of resettlement and integration, UNRWA does the opposite, she said. When the Agency was established, its mandate covered 750,000 refugees, whereas today, there are more than 5.5 million Palestine refugees, of whom 2.5 million are citizens of Europe, the Americas and the Middle East. By allocating money to those who, as refugees, acquire citizenship in other countries, UNRWA is diverting funds from those who genuinely need it. In this regard, she recalled the right of return for millions of Palestinians, adding: “Had the Palestinians accepted the partition plan, not one Palestinian would have become a refugee.” In this vein, she said UNRWA’s budget crisis is a “crisis that cannot be solved” as long as its problematic practices and distorted definitions of refugees continue.

While UNRWA functions as a purely humanitarian agency, it teaches children to use jihad language, she continued, adding that children are being indoctrinated by teachers who publicly say that anyone who fails to kill a Zionist and Israeli criminal does not deserve to live. She called for the Agency to end the spreading of “Jew hatred” in its schools and urged the United Nations to address the use of UNRWA’s infrastructure by Hamas to carry out acts of terror. Israel is a partner for peace, she said, emphasizing the need to abandon a narrative of conflict, incitement and terror and focus instead on tolerance and dialogue.

ODD INGE KVALHEIM (Norway) voiced his support for renewing UNRWA’s mandate, adding that its recurrent budget crisis has had a detrimental effect on the Palestinian refugees. Recalling that Norway has argued for more of the Agency’s operational costs to be financed through assessed contributions, based on the Secretary-General’s recommendation in 2017, he welcomed the fact that the Committee has move forward on this issue, noting that this will lead to better burden-sharing. He also noted that Norway increased its funding for UNRWA this year and encouraged others to do the same.

Mr. MOHAMED (Sudan), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement and the Arab Group, called for a sustainable solution to the Palestinian question through the creation of an independent Palestinian sovereign State based on a two-State solution. He expressed support for the rights of Palestine refugees to return to their homes, in line with Security Council resolution 194 (1948). UNRWA carries out essential work alongside Palestine refugees, and it must be supported financially until a solution is reached, he said.

GABRIELE CACCIA, Permanent Observer of the Holy See, said that UNRWA’s funding problems risk increasing the prevalence of poverty among Palestine refugees, which may in turn foster desperation and prompt more to choose the path of violence. Renewing the Holy See’s annual pledge to support the Agency's care of children and calling on others to contribute as well, he expressed deep regret at an escalation of violence and accompanying loss of life, including that of the journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. He urged Government leaders to heed the plea for peace and engage in dialogue, emphasizing that a durable settlement to the Palestinian question must include an equitable solution for Jerusalem that ensures free access for Jews, Christians and Muslims to their holy sites. In that regard, he called for an internationally guaranteed special status that would protect various aspirations.

MAGED ABDELFATTAH ABDELAZIZ, Permanent Observer of the League of Arab States, associating himself with the Arab Group, said the State of Palestine should be given full membership in the United Nations as well as steps to implement General Assembly resolutions 181 (II) and 194 (III). Praising initiatives to address UNRWA’s financing challenges, he said that funding the Agency is an international responsibility, not a purely Arab one, and that the League supports funding its work through the regular budget of the United Nations. He stressed the need to extend UNRWA’s mandate for another three years, for States to guarantee predictable funding and for efforts to be made to extend the donor base, complete administrative reforms and increase cooperation with Israel. For its part, Israel must stop taxing the passage of humanitarian aid and all other arbitrary measures. He went on to call for the continuation of international efforts to implement the two-State solution.

Right of Reply

The representative of Israel, speaking in exercise of the right to reply at the end of the morning meeting, said the Palestinians’ constant refusal to accept the concept of Jewish sovereignty over any part of the land is the reason that there is a refugee crisis and why it cannot be resolved. Had the Palestinians accepted the partition plan in 1967, there would be two States living side-by-side in peace, but the Palestinians did everything they could to impede this solution. She added that UNRWA created a system of inheritance which allows refugees to pass along their refugee status to future generations. The result is a refugee population unlike any other in the world, she said.

The representative of the State of Palestine, speaking in the afternoon, said that the General Assembly's partition plan adopted 75 years ago remains unimplemented due to Israel's deliberate obstruction of the sovereignty of the State of Palestine and of the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination. While the Palestinian leadership long ago accepted the two-State solution, there has been no reciprocation from Israel. She rejected false comparisons of UNRWA to UNHCR, and of Palestine refugees to those from Afghanistan and other countries. The claim of return is not a claim, but a right, which all refugees, no matter their place of origin, are entitled to, she said.

Peacekeeping Operations

The Committee then resumed its general debate on the agenda item “Comprehensive review of the whole question of peacekeeping operations in all their aspects”. (For background, see Press Releases GA/SPD/764, GA/SPD/765 and GA/SPD/766.)

ISATOU BADJIE (Gambia), associating herself with the Non-Aligned Movement, called for realistic expectations and clearly identified priorities in peacekeeping efforts. She called for the promotion of women’s participation in peace processes, adding that the deployment of uniformed women personnel can improve the performance of peacekeeping mis

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