The new funds represent a crucial response to the Agency's financial crisis, and will enable it to maintain the current high level of its educational activities throughout this school year, while also guaranteeing measures to boost the quality of its education services.
UNRWA's education programme provides basic education for refugee children in line with the educational systems of host countries, as well as vocational and semi-professional skills training. The current financial outlook and chronic budget shortfalls, however, have restricted the Agency's ability to maintain its educational services.
Signing the agreement, UNRWA Commissioner-General Karen Abu Zayd said: "It is with great pleasure that I accept this generous donation, which will go towards the programme that UNRWA sets as its highest priority and on which we spend more than half of our regular budget: education. On behalf of the refugees we serve, particularly the children whose educations will be enriched, I take this opportunity to thank the governments and people of Europe for their generosity."
While thanking the UN Agency's European friends, Abu Zayd also took the opportunity to make a wider appeal to the international community. UNRWA must not be made to play a continuing "zero sum game", she said, adding that "it is a source of deep regret that I leave office as Commissioner General in just a few days time, with the agency in a financial crisis that is both chronic and acute."
From his side, the European Union Representative Christian Berger said: "This new contribution demonstrates our strong and continuous commitment toward Palestinian refugees in critical sectors such as education. Our agreement today is an immediate response from the European Union to UNRWA's financial crisis that may affect its ability to maintain current levels of educational services provided to Palestinian refugee children and therefore the European Union is providing this support to ensure that these children will continue to receive quality education. This comes in line with our principal objective of ensuring that the essential humanitarian needs of the Palestinian refugees are met until a just and lasting peace to this conflict is achieved."
The EU Representative also took this opportunity to inform UNRWA about the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon.
The Treaty of Lisbon amending the Treaty on European Union and Treaty establishing the European Community entered into force on 1 December 2009. Therefore, and as from that date, the European Union succeeded to all agreements concluded and commitments made by the European Community with the United Nations and to all agreements or commitments adopted with the United Nations and binding the European Community. Moreover, Delegations of the European Commission accredited to the United Nations have become Delegations of the European Union.
The European Union is the largest multilateral provider of international assistance to Palestine refugees. Over the period 2000 to 2009, the EU, excluding EU member states, alone has provided more than €1 billion of support to the Agency. The EU's total contribution to UNRWA in 2009 amounts to more than €170 million, its largest contribution ever. The EU and its Member States provided 62% of support to the General Fund in 2009. This funding has enabled human development for the most vulnerable Palestine refugees in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.
The EU's principal objective in delivering support to Palestine refugees is to contribute to the just resolution of the refugee issue as part of a comprehensive settlement of final status issues. In doing so, the EU ensures that the essential humanitarian needs of the Palestine refugees are met; that they receive education, health and social protection services, so that they are able to contribute as educated, skilled and healthy citizens to the future Palestinian State. It delivers most of such assistance through its partnership with UNRWA.
UNRWA provides assistance and protection to Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the occupied Palestinian territory, pending a just and lasting solution to their plight. It does so by offering to a population of some 4.7 million refugees a range of human development and humanitarian services in primary and vocational education, primary health care, social safety-net, community support, infrastructure and camp improvement, microfinance and emergency response, including in situations of armed conflict. UNRWA's role also encompasses advocacy and actions to address the human rights and protection needs of Palestine refugees.
UNRWA is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions from UN member states. The Agency's core budget for 2010 and 2011 stands at $1.23 billion. In 2009, emergency appeals for the West Bank and Gaza amounted to $456.7 million, with an additional $370.7 million required for Lebanon.
For more information on the EU's assistance to the occupied Palestinian territory:
Shadi Othman, +972 (0)2 541 5888 ext
For more information on UNRWA:
Chris Gunness, +97 2(0)54 240 2659