Today is the 70th anniversary of the founding of UNRWA and, first and foremost, I wish to thank all of you - our UNRWA staff - for your service on behalf of Palestinian refugees. Your steadfast commitment to reducing the suffering and to helping meet the needs of the Palestine refugees in often perilous conditions, fills me with awe and I am extremely proud to be able to work alongside you in this noble endeavour.
To have been appointed Acting Commissioner-General of UNRWA to lead the agency through this very difficult period is a great privilege. The challenges being faced by the Agency and the refugee communities we serve are many and often complex, however it is my firm belief that we can be successful in overcoming the current financial crisis and operational challenges, by working together, in close cooperation with all our partners, to find solutions and create new opportunities.
On 13 November, the Member States of the United Nations voted overwhelmingly to renew UNRWA’s mandate for another three years, until 30 June 2023. Once again, the UN General Assembly demonstrated its strong support for UNRWA and Palestine refugees.
It is clear that today our mandate is as relevant and important as it was the day UNRWA was established 70 years ago and that we are not alone. Since 1948 many countries and other partners have supported us. In particular, I take this opportunity to express my profound appreciation to the host countries and to all of our donors and other partners, old and new, for the very generous support you provide to UNRWA and Palestine refugees.
To the Palestine refugees, our commitment is simple, it is to provide you with the highest quality services and support so as to enable you to live long, productive and healthy lives and for each of you to reach your full potential. To achieve this we will work with all our partners - host countries, donors, civil society, academia and others; we will be innovative and leverage technology; we will work to give refugee youth the skills and opportunities to compete in a modern job market; we will strive for equality; we will work hard to protect the vulnerable; and we will ensure that no one is left behind.
To achieve these goals we will improve our engagement and have regular conversations with the refugee community, along with our partners, on the role of UNRWA in meeting your needs and in helping build the future that you want and deserve, pending arriving at a just and durable solution, I encourage each of you to contribute to the discussion. The results of these conversations will help us together to achieve “the UNRWA We Want, the UNRWA We Need.”
I look forward to a rich and fruitful engagement and to working with each one of you to enhance our services in the implementation of our critical mandate.
Christian F 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.