The Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Italian Republic, Lapo Pistelli, has concluded his first official visit to the Gaza Strip. Minister Pistelli met with Robert Turner, Director of Operations in Gaza for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). Mr Turner briefed him on the essential services UNRWA provides to Palestine refugees and the operational challenges the Agency faces in Gaza.
Accompanied by Consul-General Davide La Cecilia, Minister Pistelli also took the opportunity to tour UNRWA installations. They visited Al Amal Prep Coed School, where students treated them to a performance of dabkeh, and a health centre in Khan Younis, which is now transitioning to the Family Health Team Approach as part of the Agency’s ongoing reform of its health programme.
Expressing his appreciation for the visit, Minister Pistelli reflected: “It is remarkable to see the resilience of people in such difficult circumstances. The commitment of students to their studies and the professionalism shown by UNRWA educational staff is a strong reflection of this strength.” He added: "In Italy, we remain dedicated to being part of UNRWA efforts here in Gaza and throughout the region. We have at heart the present tragic circumstances facing Palestine refugees in Syria and Lebanon. This commitment is testament to the strong bond of cooperation between the Italian and Palestinian peoples. "
Mr Turner noted: “The Government of Italy remains an important and consistent supporter of UNRWA and the Palestine refugees we serve. Its position as a member of the UNRWA Advisory Commission since 2005 is a reflection of this relationship. The proactive financial support this year from Italy for refugee students in al-Shouka School, which Italy adopted in 2013, is a testament to our constructive partnership.”
In 2013, Italy made a substantial donation of EUR 8 million (US$ 10.6 million) to the Agency, the bulk of the contribution going to the General Fund, which supports core UNRWA services for Palestine refugees throughout the region. Italy also contributed towards supporting Palestine refugees in Syria and Lebanon, while dedicating EUR 1 million (US$ 1.3 million) to respond to the urgent educational needs of some of the 225,000 students who attend the 245 UNRWA schools in the Gaza Strip.
Since 2003, the socioeconomic situation in Gaza has been in steady decline. Years of conflict have resulted in the impoverishment and de-development of a highly skilled and well-educated society now dependent on international assistance. Operating through more than 11,000 staff in over 200 installations across the Gaza Strip, UNRWA delivers education, health care, relief and social services, microcredit and emergency assistance, particularly food aid, to the more than 1 million registered Palestine refugees who live there.
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Background information UNRWA is a United Nations agency established by the General Assembly in 1949 and is mandated to provide assistance and protection to a population of some five million registered Palestine refugees. Its mission is to help Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank and the Gaza Strip to achieve their full potential in human development, pending a just solution to their plight. UNRWA’s services encompass education, health care, relief and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, and microfinance.
Financial support to UNRWA has not kept pace with an increased demand for services caused by growing numbers of registered refugees, expanding need, and deepening poverty. As a result, the Agency's General Fund (GF), supporting UNRWA’s core activities and 97 per cent reliant on voluntary contributions, has begun each year with a large projected deficit. Currently the deficit stands at US$ 54.3 million.
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