Investing in the UN agency that supports Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, is also “investing in stability” for the entire Middle East region, the UN chief told a pledging conference on Thursday.
“It means investing in the economic and social wellbeing of Palestine refugees and advancing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” Secretary-General António Guterres told the UN General Assembly ad hoc committee for voluntary contributions to UNRWA.
“It means investing in the future through education of children and youth, girls and boys, young women and men and…honouring the commitment of the international community to Palestine refugees and their rights until a just and durable political solution is found”.
Off the radar
Mr. Guterres invited participants to “imagine for a moment that we are a young man or woman Palestinian refugee living in Lebanon, or in Syria, or in Jordan, or in Gaza”.
He said for them, a political solution now seems “more far away than ever” with no active peace process and the diplomatic Quartet – consisting of the UN, European Union, United States and Russia – unable to meet, as evictions and settlements continued.
While the war in Ukraine and other global events have pushed the Palestinian question out of media headlines and political debate, he said the international community needed to “work to address all crises with determination”, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the plight of Palestine refugees.
The Secretary-General described supporting UNRWA as not only “a matter of justice” but also “a barrier to the progression of extremism” and terrorism.
Over the last ten years, the needs of Palestine refugees have continued to increase even as funds have stagnated.
“We are asking for your solidarity and your support,” said Mr. Guterres, appealing for pledges to bridge the gap between UNRWA’s mandate and its budget for vital services until the end of the year.
The UN chief explained the need to put the agency on “durable financial footing,” which requires stabilized financing to reach “sufficient, predictable and sustainable funding”.
“Millions of Palestine refugees are counting on us to relieve their suffering and to help them build a better future. We cannot let them down,” he spelled out.
Millions of Palestine refugees are counting on us to relieve their suffering and to help them build a better future – UN chief
Two States, side by side
The Secretary-General also reiterated the importance of efforts to realize Israel and Palestine as two States living side by side in peace and security, with Jerusalem as the capital of both.
“But until then, UNRWA remains vital in supporting those in need,” he said, reminding Member States that they had “collectively committed to providing assistance to Palestine refugees” by creating and supporting the agency.
Mr. Guterres outlined how their contributions would enable over half a million children to receive quality education in UNRWA schools; allow 140 clinics to offer over eight million medical consultations each year; and provide cash, food assistance and social services to millions of people where poverty rates can exceed 80 per cent.
“Multilateralism requires not only political commitments but also resources to implement them,” the UN chief continued, vowing to pursue “every avenue to sustain services to Palestine refugees in line with the UNRWA mandate”.
“Let us pledge to support UNRWA and leave no one behind”.
Hosting the event, Assembly President Abdulla Shahid pointed out that UNRWA and its budget are “moving in opposite directions”.
“Put simply, there is more to accomplish, even as financial resources continue to diminish,” he said, noting a $1.6 billion dollar budget gap for 2022.
Current UNRWA requests include additional emergency funding to address humanitarian needs in Gaza, the West Bank, Syria, and Lebanon.
To support millions of Palestine refugees with vital lifesaving services and programmes, the UN official implored the international community and UN General Assembly “to meet this funding gap”.
There is more to accomplish, even as financial resources continue to diminish – Assembly President
Mr. Shahid beseeched the ambassadors to “look beyond the monetary value” toward “commitments, principles and values to global peace and security, to peoples, prosperity, and the planet”.
“It is about providing a sense of normality for the young people who in their own words, ‘did not choose to live through war and blockade’,” he said, urging the participants to “live up to those commitments for the millions of lives and livelihoods that count on us”.
Decade of stagnation
For the last 10 years, UNRWA’s stagnating funds have caused interruptions and income unpredictability that have compelled the agency to operate for a decade with an average shortfall of around $100 million, said UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini
“UNRWA cannot be compared to any other UN humanitarian agency,” he said, drawing attention to is mandate to provide “government-like services” without the fiscal and financial tools of a government.
“We have depleted our financial reserves and reached the limits of cost control and austerity measures,” which are now affecting the quality of services.
The UNRWA chief highlighted that “despair and hopelessness” are growing in the refugee camps; political, economic and security conditions deteriorating across the West Bank; and Gaza is struggling to recover from the impact of last year’s conflict.