Pledging Australia’s ongoing support for Palestinian refugees, Foreign Minister Bob Carr today signed a five-year strategic partnership agreement with the visiting head of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), Mr Filippo Grandi. Since 2000, Australia has supported UNRWA to provide education, health, housing and infrastructure services to almost five million registered Palestinian refugees in the Middle East.
The new agreement will see Australia commit $90 million over five years to UNRWA and reinforces our friendship to the displaced people of the Palestinian territories. Ultimately, the Australian government believes a comprehensive peace plan in the Middle East must include a just and durable solution for the issue of Palestinian refugees, based on international law and UN resolutions.
In the meantime, Palestinians continue to face significant hardship. Of Gaza’s 1.6 million people, nearly 40 per cent are living in poverty and 75 per cent are dependent on aid for survival.
Australia is committed to helping Palestinians reduce their poverty and build a stable, self-sufficient and peaceful society that can underpin a future Palestinian state. The new five-year partnership with UNRWA will be an important channel for our support.
Under a United Nations mandate dating back to 1949, UNRWA provides vital services to more than 1.4 million Palestinians who live in refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
UNRWA sets up facilities in the refugee camps, including schools and health centres, and Australia’s funding will help the Agency improve and extend them.
UNRWA has been the main provider of basic education to Palestinian refugee children since 1950. The Agency operates one of the largest school systems in the Middle East, with 700 schools employing more than 20,000 teaching and support staff.
It is also the main healthcare provider for the Palestinian refugee population – operating a network of 137 clinics providing free primary healthcare services to all registered refugees in need.
In times of conflict, UNRWA also provides emergency assistance to affected Palestinians including food aid, tents, blankets, kitchen kits, water and sanitation supplies.