Palestine Refugees: An Unresolved Question at the Time of the Syria Crisis

Lecture by Filippo Grandi, Commissioner-General, United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA)

Pontifical Catholic University,
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
4 October 2013

Thank you, Professor Scalercio, for your introduction. Allow me to also thank Paulo Esteves and the Instituto de Relações Internacionais for the kind invitation to address you today. I am delighted to have the opportunity to meet all of you at this important institution and eminent centre of learning.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am in Brazil for the second time in just over a year. This is a reflection of the strong concern, commitment and growing role that the Brazilian government and people play in supporting Palestine and Palestinians, including the refugees. It is also an indication of how much we at UNRWA - and I in particular! - are proud and excited to have embarked on a road towards partnership with Brazil - not only with the federal government but also with a rich variety of local government institutions, civil society, organizations and communities.

Brazil - an emerging global actor with a rich and complex history of pursuit of freedom, rights, justice and equality - is attracting much interest among those of us who operate in situations of crisis, conflict, violence and deprivation. Brazil is also, obviously, in the process of exploring and developing its opportunities in the international arena, and increasingly bearing the responsibilities that come with broader influence and reach. This is a great nation which is undergoing many extraordinary processes and transitions. Becoming a globally responsible actor is not the least among them.

Of course, from my specific perspective, I attach much importance to the key role which Brazil can play in an institution like our organization, UNRWA - the only United Nations agency whose area of operations is not global but regional, and which deals with a single group of people; but also the organization tackling one of the consequences of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the regional crisis which is perhaps of most global concern in today’s world from the political, security, economic and cultural points of view: and Brazil cannot ignore a global concern, even if it stems from a relatively distant region.

Let me also add that the founding philosophy of this university - humanism, service to the community, comprehensive responsibility – is ever so critical to reflect upon. As we witness in particular the devastating consequences of the war in Syria - including well beyond its borders - these values, which also underpin the work of the United Nations, have particular resonance and urgency.

The theme of my remarks, “Palestine Refugees: an Unresolved Question at the Time of the Syria Crisis”, sounds quite conceptual, but - and especially from the perspective of UNRWA - it is in fact, at its core, about people, individual lives, and the well-being of communities. I will seek to impress upon you how the long-standing and unresolved plight of Palestine refugees has resulted in a continuous state of vulnerability for a people often forgotten and deprived of their most fundamental rights; how this vulnerability is exacerbated by the conflict in Syria, as it has been in other wars in past decades; and how the work of UNRWA continues to contribute to both the human development and the resilience of Palestine refugees throughout the Middle East, and indeed to their strength as a community to withstand challenges and prepare for a better future.