This week, as the Convention on the Right of the Child (CRC) turns 30, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) reflects on the impact of its assistance to the children of Gaza, the West Bank including East Jerusalem, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. The CRC's promise to children is that they should live in safety, are protected from violence, discrimination and abuse, and that they enjoy economic, social and cultural rights. For the past 70 years, UNRWA has run programmes that have directly improved the wellbeing of many Palestine refugee children: today, over half a million students receive quality education in schools run by the Agency; Palestine refugee children within the UNRWA areas of operation have nearly a 100 per cent vaccination rate; the Agency is constantly improving its support for children with disabilities and is empowering children through its student parliaments program in UNRWA schools.
"There is a lot for UNRWA to be proud of in terms of its contribution to the rights set out in the Convention," said Mr. Christian Saunders, Acting UNRWA Commissioner-General. "However, many Palestine refugee children face considerable threats to their safety and wellbeing and are unable to fully enjoy their childhood or reach their full potential. Sadly, for many Palestine refugee children, the global commitment to the upholding of their rights has a long way to go until it is realized."
An estimated 25 million girls and boys live in conflict situations in the Arab region today (UNICEF, 2019), which includes the Near East, where UNRWA is active. Unfortunately, despite achievements in the fields of health and education for children across the region, violence and conflict still mark the childhoods of many; children in Gaza born in 2009 will have experienced three wars and frequent episodes of military escalation; children born in Syria since 2011 will not know what it means to live without conflict; and children in the West Bank will only know a life under occupation.
"In UNRWA, we work every day to ensure that children can live in dignity pending a just and lasting solution to their plight, whether it is through providing them with a good quality education, or access to health care, relief and social services or through our protection work. We have our part of the CRC promise to honor and we take this responsibility very seriously," said Mr. Saunders.
UNRWA is confronted with an increased demand for services resulting from a growth in the number of registered Palestine refugees, the extent of their vulnerability and their deepening poverty. UNRWA is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions and financial support has been outpaced by the growth in needs. As a result, the UNRWA programme budget, which supports the delivery of core essential services, operates with a large shortfall. UNRWA encourages all Member States to work collectively to exert all possible efforts to fully fund the Agency's programme budget. UNRWA emergency programmes and key projects, also operating with large shortfalls, are funded through separate funding portals. UNRWA is a United Nations agency established by the General Assembly in 1949 and mandated to provide assistance and protection to some 5.4 million Palestine refugees registered with UNRWA across its five fields of operation. Its mission is to help Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip achieve their full human development potential, pending a just and lasting solution to their plight. UNRWA services encompass education, health care, relief and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, protection and microfinance.
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