UNRWA Pledging Conference
50th Anniversary of the Establishment of the Agency
 

On 8 December 1999, the Ad Hoc Committee of the General Assembly for the Announcement of Voluntary Contributions to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) was convened at U.N. headquarters in New York.  The date chosen for the pledging conference was of significance as it represented the date - 50 years ago - that the General Assembly adopted resolution 302 (IV) on 8 December 1949, establishing UNRWA for the purpose of providing humanitarian assistance and emergency relief services for the beleaguered and suffering Palestine refugees in the aftermath of the 1948 war. 

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?  Sadly, the Palestine refugees continue to suffer and UNRWA continues to play a vital role in providing much-needed assistance and in improving their living conditions.  For generations of Palestine refugees, UNRWA has, through its clinics, schools, relief centers, training colleges, and community centers, provided essential health, education, social and relief services in its five fields of operation.   Such services remain important in helping the Palestine refugees meet the daily challenges arising from the circumstances of their lives.  The contributions made to the Agency are imperative for maintaining these necessary services since UNRWA is reliant on the donor community for its funding. 

At the pledging conference held on 8 December, most donor countries maintained their level of contributions to UNRWA, while several were able to increase their voluntary contributions for the year ahead.  Moreover, in announcing their pledges, most donors took the opportunity to reflect on UNRWA’s history and work over the past 50 years, as well as its future, and reaffirmed the international community’s responsibility for financially helping the Agency to carry out its mandate in caring for the Palestine refugees. 

The President of the General Assembly, H.E. Mr. Theo Ben-Gurirab, convened the meeting and made a statement on the occasion as well, calling for a sustained commitment to helping the Palestine refugees.  The Commissioner-General of UNRWA, Mr. Peter Hansen, also addressed the meeting, making, inter alia, a poignant appeal on behalf of the Agency and the refugees it serves for contributions from the donor countries. UNRWA is seeking $350 million for the coming year to enable it to meet its costs for providing a basic level of needed services to the Palestine refugees. 

The following countries made statements announcing their contributions on that day: Norway, Netherlands, Italy, Cyprus, Spain, Luxembourg, the European Commission, Japan, U.S.A., Canada, Denmark, Tunisia, Sweden, Republic of Korea, Greece, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, India, Austria, China, Turkey, Bahrain, Kuwait, Germany, United Kingdom, and Mexico.   Finland also addressed the meeting on behalf of the European Union.  Ambassador Al-Kidwa, the Permanent Observer of Palestine to the U.N., made a statement following completion of the pledges to thank the donor countries and to express Palestine’s gratitude and appreciation to the Commissioner-General of UNRWA and its entire staff for their tireless efforts and dedication over the years. Mr. Hansen then made closing remarks thanking the donors for their generous contributions. 

Later that day, to mark the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the establishment of UNRWA, a joint press conference was held by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, H.E. Mr. Kofi Annan, and Commissioner-General Hansen.