Statement by Ms. Feda Abdelhady Nasser, First Secretary, before the Special Political and Decolonization Committee (Fourth Committee), Item 88: United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), 54th Session of the U.N. General Assembly, 2 November 1999: 

Mr. Chairman,

            The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East – UNRWA – was established by the General Assembly in 1949 with the adoption of resolution 302 (IV) on the 8th of December.   The Assembly established the Agency to take the lead among the numerous religious, charitable, and humanitarian organizations that had participated in the emergency effort to provide relief and assistance to the beleaguered Palestine refugees in the aftermath of the war in 1948.

 A few weeks from today, the United Nations will mark fifty years since the adoption of that resolution and May 2000 will mark fifty years of the operation of UNRWA.   Although eternally grateful for the Agency’s continuous and tireless work in service of the Palestine refugees in the effort to ease their suffering and ameliorate their impoverished and desperate living conditions, this is a sad anniversary for the Palestinian people.  

            In 1949, the proposition of UNRWA’s operation for a half-century would have been inconceivable. Who then would have believed that, after more than five decades, the Palestine refugees would continue to languish in refugee camps dispersed throughout the Occupied Territory and the Middle East region, denied their right of return and still awaiting a just resolution of their tragic plight?  Who then would have believed that in 1999, as the 20th century draws to a close, four generations of Palestine refugees would mostly know only the burdens of life in what were established as temporary camps and shelters, as the international community continued to grapple with their predicament in the face of Israeli intransigence and non-compliance with international law and the resolutions of the United Nations?

  Mr. Chairman, 

Because of these unfortunate realities, this item has been, and continues to be, of the highest importance to my delegation. In addressing this item, we address not only the work of UNRWA but also the correspondent conditions, needs and fate of the 3.6 million Palestine refugees.  It is therefore imperative to reaffirm basic and constant principles regarding the Palestine refugees. In establishing UNRWA, the General Assembly recalled its resolutions 212 (III) of 19 November 1948 and 194 (III) of 11 December 1948, affirming in particular the provisions of paragraph 11 of the latter, in which the Assembly “resolves that the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible.” Annually, the Assembly has noted with regret that the United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine has been unable to find a means of achieving progress in the implementation of paragraph 11.

 The Palestine refugees, like any other refugees, have natural established rights to their homes and their properties.  Beginning with resolution 194 (III), the General Assembly has annually reaffirmed this right for over five decades.  It is an inalienable individual right, which cannot be diminished or supplanted with the passage of time.  This right should not to be confused with the right of displaced persons to return to the territory occupied by Israel since 1967, which was affirmed in Security Council resolution 237 (1967) and which should have already been effected during the transitional period of the peace process.  Further, the rights of the Palestine refugees to return to from where they fled should not to be confused with the right of every Palestinian to come to the Palestinian State and become a Palestinian citizen.  This is a sovereign right of the future Palestinian State and is part of its responsibility towards the Palestinian people everywhere.

 Mr. Chairman, 

            Since its establishment, UNRWA has played a crucial and historical role in halting the further deterioration of the conditions and situation of the Palestine refugees.  It has greatly and incomparably assisted them through the provision of essential relief, health care, education and social services.  To this day the Agency plays a very central role in the lives of the refugees.  As such, the severe financial difficulties being faced by UNRWA are of deep concern.  The widening gulf between the financial resources available to the Agency and the needs of the Palestine refugees is a serious dilemma with both short-term and potentially grave long-term negative consequences.

 The ongoing financial problems being experienced by UNRWA have meant a continuation of austerity measures and reductions or adjustments in the level of services in the past year.  This has exacerbated the already-heavy socio-economic burdens of refugee families, who understand these measures to have political implications reflecting a decline in the importance of their plight in the international arena. The international community should not let the refugees feel as though it is abandoning its responsibility towards the Palestine refugee issue in the absence of a just solution. 

 Moreover, I wish to emphasize once again in this forum the necessity of continuing the work of UNRWA in all fields of operation until a definitive solution to the refugee problem is reached with the implementation of the relevant United Nations resolutions.  For humanitarian reasons, any decrease in the services of UNRWA should be opposed; its services and programs must meet the prevailing needs of the refugees.  Allowing the financial crisis to be the primary determinant of the Agency’s work is unfair to the refugees it is mandated to serve and unfair to the administration of the Agency.  UNRWA should not be forced to operate under the pressure of minimum availability of funds.

 The situation on the ground, due to the difficulties and freeze in the peace process throughout the reporting period, continued to present countless obstacles in the daily lives of the Palestinian people. In the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Jerusalem, despair and frustration are most prevalent among the Palestine refugee population.  They continue to face socio-economic hardships, including high unemployment, declining household incomes, an overburdened infrastructure, and poor living conditions. The services provided by UNRWA are crucial in helping to alleviate the hardships and pressures they have been enduring.  

Unfortunately, the operations of the Agency in the Occupied Palestinian Territory continued to be obstructed by measures imposed by the Israeli authorities, such as repeated closures and restrictions on the movement of UNRWA staff and vehicles.   This has invariably affected the provision of services to the Palestine refugees.  The Agency should be allowed to carry out its mandate without such constraints and problems.

 Mr. Chairman, 

Allow me this opportunity to express our thanks and appreciation to the Commissioner-General of UNRWA, Mr. Peter Hansen, for the thorough and comprehensive report he has presented to the General Assembly and for his tireless efforts in leading UNRWA.  I would also like to convey our gratitude to the entire staff of UNRWA in all fields of operation for their unwavering commitment and dedicated work, particularly in light of the many difficulties faced by the Agency.  Unfortunately, it is truly regrettable that, despite its early submittal, the Commissioner-General’s valuable report was subject to unnecessary delays, which are unacceptable and unhelpful for the conduct of constructive debates among delegations on such important issues.

 Mr. Chairman,

 At this time, I also wish to express our gratitude and appreciation to the Host Governments for their continuous efforts and their important contribution in shouldering the burden of the Palestine refugees.  We once again emphasize the vital need for UNRWA to be able to continue its programs and services in all of those fields of operation, namely in Jordan, Lebanon and the Syrian Arab Republic.

 Mr. Chairman,

We are grateful as well to all of the donors who have so generously contributed to the budget of UNRWA for so many years.  Again, many donors responded to recent appeals made by the Commissioner-General for additional contributions, offering much-needed support for the Agency’s endeavors to carry out essential services.  We urge you to continue contributing to UNRWA and, if possible, to augment those contributions with a view to overcoming the financial difficulties the Agency faces and enabling it to maintain an appropriate level of services for the refugees.  In this connection, we look forward to a successful pledging conference on the 8th of December.  In closing, Mr. Chairman, I wish to appeal to all delegations with regard to the importance of backing contributions with political support for the Palestine refugees and the just resolution of their plight.

 Thank you, Mr. Chairman.