7 June 2004
by Mr. Peter Hansen, Commissioner-General,
Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East
am pleased to have an opportunity send my greetings to this important
conference, which has been called by UNRWA and the Government of Switzerland, on
behalf of the more than 4 million Palestine refugees in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan,
the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. I
would like to thank the Government of Switzerland, whose generosity has made
this conference possible.
meet at a difficult time in the Middle East.
The Palestine refugees continue to struggle to cope with increased
socio-economic hardship, and grappling with painful uncertainty about the
future. This is far from the first
time that the Palestine refugees have found themselves in adverse conditions.
Hardship and uncertainty have been enduring features of their historical
experience. Thankfully, they are a
resourceful people, a quality that has helped them to sustain their communities
in the face of persistent challenges and conflict.
September 2000, the number of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip who
rely on UNRWA for food aid has risen from 130,000 to 1.1 million – an almost
ten-fold increase. In that same time
period, the percentage of Palestinians living below the poverty line has
tripled, from 20 percent to 60 percent. There
has also been a substantial rise in the number of people making use of the
Agency’s primary health services.
if this sharply growing distress was not enough, recent months have seen a
deeply troubling upsurge in violence. Indeed,
at times the conflict has appeared at risk of spiralling out of control,
necessitating a clear response from the international community.
This was apparent last month in Rafah, where the widespread demolition of
Palestinian homes by the Israeli army, accompanied by a significant loss of
Palestinian life, led to the adoption of United Nations Security Council
Resolution 1544, which called on Israel to respect its obligations under
international humanitarian law, and in particular its obligations not to
undertake demolitions of homes contrary to that law.
The resolution also called on the Government of Israel and the
Palestinian Authority to immediately implement their obligations under the
Quartet’s Roadmap, which provides a phased, performance-based mechanism
addressing the needs of the parties at every level – political, security,
economic, humanitarian, and institution building.
The Roadmap continues to offer a way to reach a comprehensive settlement
of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, including, in the words of the Roadmap, a
“just, fair and realistic solution to the refugee issue.”
continues to make an invaluable contribution to the well-being and stability of
the refugee community – as do the host authorities, whose support has been
essential to the Agency’s programme of work.
A Palestine refugee child born today is more likely than at any time in
the past, and more likely than his or her non-refugee peers in the region, to
survive infancy in good health. The
same is true of the pre- and post-natal health of his or her mother.
Few will succumb to the communicable diseases that all too often afflict
low-income groups and other refugee populations. Moreover, today the Palestine
refugees, both female and male, are universally literate.
achievements, many of them realized by the end of the 1960s, placed social
indicators for Palestine refugees ahead of much of the developing world,
including those indicators which the international community has recently
committed itself to achieve by the year 2015 through the Millennium Development
Goals. However, with socioeconomic
and demographic pressures growing – the refugee population has increased by
500 percent since UNRWA began operations – and with resources made available
by donors failing to keep up with needs, UNRWA faces a difficult task in
sustaining these achievements.
are already seeing the consequences of under-funding of the Agency’s budget in
over-crowded classrooms and clinics, and in decaying UNRWA infrastructure.
There is real concern that if these trends continue, the key human
development strengths of the Palestine refugee population will begin to unravel.
After more than two generations of sustained productive investment in
their human capital, this would be a tragic and worrying development.
Palestine refugees have shown admirable resilience and a strong commitment to
making a better life for themselves. As
the overwhelming majority of the Agency’s teachers, doctors, social workers
and other employees, they have also been the backbone of UNRWA’s enterprise.
The dedication of the staff in the occupied Palestinian territory, who
have kept operations going in the most difficult of circumstances – and nine
of whom have been killed in the past three years – has been exceptional.
I appeal to all participants to embrace the aims of this Conference, and
reinforce the partnerships with UNRWA that you have so generously nurtured since
1950. Thank you again for your
support, and please accept my best wishes for a successful conference."