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Chief of UN relief agency for Palestine refugees calls for more funds

Chief of UN relief agency for Palestine refugees calls for more funds

The head of the United Nations agency assisting millions of Palestine refugees today urged a General Assembly committee to provide a sound financial basis for the relief effort.

In a statement to the General Assembly's Special Political and Decolonization Committee, Peter Hansen, Commissioner-General of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), called for efforts to eliminate the structural deficit in the Agency's budget. "Our austerity measures have already run their course," he said. "We now face a situation where the quality and extent of our services are under serious threat."

UNRWA's resources, he said, had not been keeping up with the demand for its services. Illustrating the growing needs, he said the Agency has to provide more than 11,000 new school places for students every year in Gaza alone. "Our health centres are overloaded with more than a 100 patients visits per doctor every day," he said. "As the numbers of hardship cases keep rising with the growth in the refugee population, our relief and social services are coming under increasing strain."

Mr. Hansen called for an end to the "hand to mouth" approach to UNRWA finances, noting that the Agency currently faces a deficit of $26 million against a budget of $311 million. "It is time now for the international community to make a concerted effort to bring UNRWA's finances on to a stable footing," he stressed.

In addition to the problem of sufficient resources, Mr. Hansen said, the Agency was hampered by "the whole range of Israeli closures, checkpoints, blockades and other restrictions on movements of staff and goods." At the same time, he paid tribute to the UNRWA staff, who "have often risked their lives" to go out into the field and provide immediate sustenance to the refugees.