UNWRA for Palestine Refugees in the New East
H.E. Ambassador Gréta Gunnarsdóttir
GA 66 / 4th Committee
Item 52: United Nations Relief and Works Agency
for Palestine Refugees in the Near East
Before turning to UNRWA´s work, I would like to touch upon the situation in its operational environment in the oPt and Lebanon which affects.the work of the Agency.
The situation of Palestine refugees in East Jerusalem and Area C is of great concern; The Israeli practice of demolishing homes, basic infrastructure and sources of livelihoods continues to devastate refugee families. Settlements are illegal under international law and we urge Israel to immediately end all settlement activities, including in East Jerusalem and to cease building the separation wall on occupied Palestinian land. In this regard we would like to call attention to the village of Al-Walajeh, which is being encircled by the Wall and its mainly refugee population, is being cut off from their agricultural land.
The vast majority of the population in Gaza are Palestine refugees. We welcome measures taken by Israel to improve access of goods and construction materials into Gaza. At the same time we reiterate Iceland´s position that the blocade against Gaza is contrary to international humanitarian law and should be lifted immediately.
We commend Lebanon for the amendments made to grant certain rights to Palestine refugees in 2010 related to their access to the workforce and the Lebanese Social Security Fund. This is a necessary step to address the needs of the 56% of refugees of working age in Lebanon who are jobless and to provide them with the means to lift themselves out of poverty. We urge the Lebanese Government to fully implement the amendments and further expand them to include additional professions.
Iceland would like thank UNRWA’s Commissioner-General and his staff for their work on the ground in a volatile and often dangerous environment. UNRWA´s work is invaluable to the 4.9 million Palestine refugees living in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, who, without the support of the Agency, would be living in even greater despair.
The reconstruction of Nahr-el Bared Camp in Lebanon remains the largest and most complex project of UNRWA. Thanks to an extraordinary collective effort, UNRWA was able, earlier this year, to inaugurate the first package out of 8 and 317 families were able to return to their new homes. But there are still thousands of refugees living in temporary shelters under very difficult circumstances that depend on UNRWA to secure their wellbeing and return. Access restrictions also continue to suffocate Nahr-el Bared´s once thriving economy, increasing the refugees reliance on UNRWA. We urge Lebanon to continue to ease these restrictions.
Iceland fully supports the recommendations in the Secretary General´s report on Strengthening the Management Capacity of UNRWA, as well as UNRWA’s reform efforts. These reforms, as well as UNRWA´s important work, are being threatened by UNRWA’s deficit which at the end of 2011 is expected to reach over 47 million USD. Without the support of the international community, UNRWA will not be able to bridge this financial gap.
In spite of Iceland’s economic constraints, my Government has and will continue to support UNRWA. We hope other Member States will do the same and especially urge those who have not yet become donor countries to consider doing so, to enlarge the Agency´s donor base.
UNRWA´s clients, the Palestine refugees, are very much a forgotten group outside of their immediate environment. Their plight doesn´t receive much attention at the global level except as one of the “issues” that fall under the so called “final status issues” in the Middle East Peace Process – we do not hear much about their overall living conditions and their future prospects. They include men and women who are now well over middle age, who recall how as children, they fled with their parents from their homes in what is now Israel, expecting to return in a few days but still find themselves as refugees in foreign countries. While their plight hasn´t been addressed there will be a need for UNRWA but it is the hope of my delegation that sooner than later we will see a just solution to their plight. UNRWA was never meant to be permanent, rather an interim arrangement. However, until a solution is found for the refugees, UNRWA continues to be badly needed.
Thank you, Madame Chair