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Report of the Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, 1 January-31 December 2018 (A/74/13) [EN/AR]

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General Assembly
Official Records
Seventy-fourth Session
Supplement No. 13

Letters of transmittal

Letter dated 23 August 2019 from the Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East addressed to the President of the General Assembly

In 2019, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) continues to face serious challenges on many fronts. A decision by the Agency’s largest bilateral donor to reduce its contribution by $300 million in 2018 confronted the Agency with an existential crisis. In response, the extraordinary mobilization of support by a broad range of donors brought a shortfall of $446 million down to zero by December 2018, allowing the Agency to preserve its operations throughout the year. We have called on UNRWA partners to provide the same level of financial contributions in 2019 in order to ensure a continuation of UNRWA essential services in support of a population of some 5.4 million Palestine refugees. For the Agency’s part, we are maintaining a regime of financial discipline that has resulted in cost savings of approximately $500 million over the past five years. This year, our partners and the Agency’s own internal measures will be needed to compensate for the additional loss of $60 million from the United States of America, effectively ending all United States funding to UNRWA in 2019.

Owing to efforts by the Agency and its partners, UNRWA has been able to keep its schools open, its clinics staffed and its vital assistance to the most vulnerable refugees flowing. This has not been easy. Financial constraints test the limits of providing quality assistance, an inevitable consequence when we have 50 students per classroom and 100 patient visits daily per doctor. The operating environment for UNRWA programmes and activities is also extremely challenging across its five fields of operation. The socioeconomic conditions of refugees have deteriorated in most areas. In the Syrian Arab Republic, the situation remains precarious, with most Palestine refugees there, as well as Palestine refugees from the Syrian Arab Republic in Jordan and Lebanon, still relying on UNRWA for their most basic needs. In Gaza, tensions remain high, after several cycles of violence across the Gaza perimeter and more than a year of protests there, in which hundreds of Palestinians were killed and thousands wounded; 13 UNRWA students were killed and 284 wounded. The devastating economic situation leaves nearly 1 million refugees in Gaza dependent on UNRWA for food. In the West Bank, Israeli settlements continue to expand, coinciding with an increase in evictions and the demolition of homes of Palestinians. Meanwhile, Israeli authorities have taken some steps that challenge UNRWA operations in East Jerusalem, following an announcement by the Jerusalem municipality of a plan to terminate UNRWA service provision there.

I wish to express my profound appreciation to both host and donor Governments for their continued support for UNRWA and its mandate. UNRWA made significant strides in expanding and diversifying its donor base in 2018, with 42 countries becoming new donors or increasing their contributions. UNRWA now enjoys 27 multi-year agreements with donor countries, up from 22 in 2017, which increases the predictability of funding and aligns with Member State commitments made at the World Humanitarian Summit. At the pledging conference held in New York on 26 June 2019, Member States generously pledged $110 million. UNRWA continues to pursue new sources of funding as well, including through its own digital campaigns seeking individual funding, and in collaboration with authorities in various countries that support Islamic giving. We welcome the important decision by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation on 2 March 2019 to establish a waqf endowment fund on behalf of UNRWA at the Islamic Development Bank.

Despite all of these efforts, the Agency’s financial shortfall as at the date of this letter stands at $151 million. It is imperative that the remaining shortfall be bridged as quickly as possible to enable us to sustain operations and continue implementing our mandate by addressing the dire situation on the ground. Given the difficulties that Palestine refugees face daily, it is no surprise that deep despair has taken hold in many quarters, with a dramatic increase in psychosocial trauma. Against this backdrop, in delivering essential assistance to these refugees, UNRWA addresses individual needs and provides a sense of hope and a foundation for a better future. This represents a significant contribution to stability in all five fields of operation.

I recently announced that UNRWA schools in all five fields would open on time for the 2019/20 school year. The education we provide in over 700 schools represents in many ways the heart and soul of what UNRWA stands for: investing in human capital and development. Our students show determination every morning as they make their way to school, especially those having to cross checkpoints or living in areas of conflict or under occupation. In UNRWA schools, they acquire knowledge and skills and, just as importantly, they nurture dreams and pursue opportunities for healthy and productive lives. More than half a million girls and boys make the most of this precious opportunity to gain a quality education. It is the greatest investment that the international community can make in the future of a society.

UNRWA was established to provide essential services to Palestine refugees, thereby protecting a vulnerable population and supporting their human development while they await a just and lasting solution to their plight. In the absence of such a solution, UNRWA contributes to regional stability, playing an indispensable humanitarian role that is recognized by the international community on whose support it continues to rely for the implementation of its mandate.

(Signed) Pierre Krähenbühl

Letter dated 18 June 2019 from the Chair of the Advisory Commission of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East addressed to the Commissioner-General of the Agency*

At its regular session, held at the Dead Sea on 17 and 18 June 2019, the Advisory Commission of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) considered your annual report on UNRWA activities and operations, covering the period from 1 January 2018 to 31 December 2018, to be submitted to the General Assembly at its forthcoming session.

The Commission strongly commends UNRWA for its determined effort to fulfil its duties, in accordance with its mandate, to deliver necessary and essential services within its education, health, and relief and social services programmes for some 5.4 million currently registered Palestine refugees in the UNRWA fields of operation, despite the existential crisis faced in 2018. Palestine refugees affected by displacement and its consequences for more than 70 years continue to need the Agency’s steadfast assistance.

The Commission reaffirms that the role played by UNRWA is vital until a just and lasting solution for the Palestine refugees is reached in accordance with relevant United Nations resolutions (General Assembly resolutions 194 (III) and 302 (IV)). In this respect, and until this solution is found, the Commission emphasizes that the sustainable human development and humanitarian assistance provided by UNRWA to Palestine refugees in the region is also a direct contribution to regional peace and stability.

The Commission therefore expresses its sincere gratitude to hosts and donors for their support to UNRWA.

The Commission is seriously concerned about the continued and dramatic deterioration in the socioeconomic conditions of Palestine refugees. The Commission is of the view that this is contributing to greater reliance on UNRWA services, which must continue until the above-mentioned solution is found, despite all the challenges. This is also increasing desperation and frustration among Palestine refugees, which remains a challenge. Displacement and its consequences are generating increasing challenges for Palestine refugees and to regional stability. These challenges must be addressed.

The Commission stresses that violence, forced displacements, the destruction of homes, missed economic opportunities, movement restrictions in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the blockade of the Gaza strip continue to negatively affect Palestine refugees’ lives. The Commission emphasizes that the volatile situation in the region, where violence, marginalization, displacement and poverty are rampant, affects Palestine refugees in all the UNRWA fields of operation.

The Commission expresses its profound concern for the immense loss of life and injuries to people, including peaceful protestors, members of the media, first responders and children, related to the Great March of Return, and the stress this placed on health services in Gaza, and commends the UNRWA health-care staff for their dedication in response.

The Commission calls for the refraining of actions that put in danger UNRWA services and staff, and urges respect at all times for the inviolability and neutrality of UNRWA installations and for the interests and rights of Palestine refugees under the UNRWA mandate. The Commission considers incursions, misuse of facilities for unauthorized political or other events and the disruption of services by forced closures or protests unacceptable, underlining the importance of recognizing staff rights. Such actions seriously risk the inviolability and neutrality of UNRWA installations as well as the provision of essential and needed services.

The Commission recalls the necessity to respect obligations under international humanitarian, human rights and refugee law, relevant United Nations resolutions, the Agreement on Movement and Access and all relevant international agreements to facilitate and support UNRWA services in accordance with its mandate. Measures leading to additional costs should be avoided in particular. The Commission, in this respect, recalls the obligation to grant rapid and unimpeded access to UNRWA.

The Commission remains concerned about the level of threats and attacks against UNRWA personnel in conflict areas. The Commission deplores the death of UNRWA personnel as a result of conflict and offers its condolences to the families, friends and colleagues of the 30 staff who were missing, detained, kidnapped or presumed detained in 2018.

The Commission also remains concerned about the restrictions imposed by Israeli forces on UNRWA staff within the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem. The Commission stresses its deep concern at the plans expressed by the Israeli authorities to terminate UNRWA service provision in occupied East Jerusalem and breach the inviolability owed to United Nations installations by obstructing the Agency’s provision of services in East Jerusalem. The Commission takes this opportunity to remind the Israeli authorities of the applicable privileges and immunities owed to the Agency under the 1946 Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations and the Comay-Michelmore Agreement of 1967.

The Commission expresses its utmost concern over the existential crisis that UNRWA faced in 2018, as well as over its continuing financial difficulties. UNRWA services in protection, relief, health and education are critically needed, and uncertainty regarding their continuation feeds into the frustration and despair felt by Palestine refugees. This also increases the risk of young people without hope and opportunity being radicalized. In this respect, the Commission commends the Commissioner-General for his determination to reopen the UNRWA schools, despite financial duress, at the start of the school year, in August. The Commission recognizes the value of this decision for more than 500,000 Palestine refugee students.

The Commission urges all donors to assist in finding new ways to support the predictable, sustained and sufficient funding of UNRWA, in line with the recommendations contained in the report of the Secretary-General on the operations of UNRAWA (A/71/849) and with the UNRWA Resource Mobilization Strategy for the period 2019–2021. Accordingly, the Commission calls on donors to intensify their efforts to increase awareness of UNRWA activities for Palestine refugees and thus to encourage the wider international community to increase their support, including financial.

The Commission, in reference to the Secretary-General’s recommendations, welcomes the adoption of the statute of the developmental waqf fund for the Palestine refugees at the forty-sixth session of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation Council of Foreign Ministers, held in Abu Dhabi on 1 and 2 March 2019, which will act as a tool to potentially increase support for Palestine refugees through UNRWA.

The Commission commends the Commissioner-General and the management of UNRWA and its staff for their resolve to utilize available resources efficiently, to enact reforms, to streamline the budget and to obtain the funding required to implement the Agency’s mandate. At the same time, the Commission urges the Commissioner-General and the management of UNRWA to take further steps to set UNRWA on a sustainable financial trajectory so as to ensure that services continue to reach Palestine refugees in line with the Agency’s mandate, keeping in mind the negative impact of austerity measures on UNRWA services, refugees and staff.

The Commission would like to thank Egypt, Germany, Japan, Jordan, Sweden, Turkey and the European Union for their successful holding of the ministerial meeting on UNRWA in New York on 27 September 2018, on the margins of the high-level segment of the General Assembly. The Meeting contributed immensely to drawing further attention to the invaluable work done by UNRWA and consolidating support to the Agency.

The Commission calls for and encourages the renewal of the UNRWA mandate by the General Assembly, in accordance with General Assembly resolution 302 (IV).

The Commission welcomes Qatar as its new member, in the spirit of the further expansion of its membership.

(Signed) Ambassador Korkut Güngen
Chair of the Advisory Commission

* Brazil and the United States of America do not associate with the text of the letter.