Wed. Jul 24th, 2024

Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks, as delivered by Courtenay Rattray, Chef de Cabinet, at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) Pledging Conference, in New York today:

Ladies and Gentlemen, at the outset, just allow me an opportunity to convey to you the Secretary-General’s deep regret at being unable to participate in this very important meeting this morning.

I think all of you know the deep commitment the Secretary-General has to the cause of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). It is unfortunate. He was notified yesterday of a family emergency and so departed last evening on a flight to Portugal.

What he wanted me to assure you is of his sincere and deep commitment and that he will do everything in his power to right the ship of UNRWA as we go forward in these next few months through to September, which is a pivotal month as you have heard from the President of the General Assembly. Let me just read his statement that he would have delivered personally, were he here:

Thank you for your coming together today in solidarity with Palestinian refugees. Every year we meet — and every year we confront the same contradiction. On the one hand, we all recognize the essential role that UNRWA plays: as a safety net for the most vulnerable; pillar of regional stability; a catalyst for development; a critical conflict prevention tool; and a lifeline of hope and opportunity for millions.

On the other hand, however, we allow UNRWA to remain trapped in financial limbo. Soaring needs are met by stagnating funds. In fact, some of the largest and most reliable donors have recently signalled to UNRWA they might reduce their contributions.

This is deeply concerning. The Agency is already operating, as you have heard, with a shortfall of around $75 million. Let’s be clear: UNRWA is on the verge of financial collapse. The consequences of further budget cuts would be nothing short of catastrophic.

When UNRWA’s future hangs in the balance, so do the lives of millions of Palestine refugees relying on essential services. Services like education for over half a million girls and boys; health care for around 2 million people; job opportunities for youth in Gaza and elsewhere; psychosocial support for hundreds of thousands of children; and a social safety net for nearly half a million of the poorest Palestinians.

Behind these facts and figures are countless individual stories of opportunities created and of lives forever changed. The story of Loay Elbasyouni, who attended UNRWA schools and went on to work for the team at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration of the United States (NASA) that designed the Perseverance rover that landed on Mars.

Or the story of Bara’a Abu Asakar, who was educated at the UNRWA Rimal Elementary Co-Ed school in Gaza before moving abroad to complete her medical studies. Today, she is working on a cure against pancreatic cancer. It is examples like these that demonstrate how much all of us gain if we invest in opportunities for all. Investing in UNRWA means investing in our common future.

UNRWA was created to support one of the first humanitarian operations of the United Nations nearly 75 years ago. And still, the prospect of peace remains remote. If anything, it is receding. The past year was the deadliest for Palestinians since the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs began systematically tracking fatalities in 2005. Halfway into the new year, violence rages on without reprieve.

There is no alternative to a political solution that realizes the vision of two States — Israel and Palestine — living side by side in peace and security, with Jerusalem as the capital of both States. The outlines of this solution are well known: they are laid out in United Nations resolutions, international law and bilateral agreements.

But realities on the ground — from the continuing occupation to expanding settlement construction — are working against us. In this darkening picture, UNRWA is one of the few rays of hope. I urge you to nurture and sustain this hope. Do your part and ensure that UNRWA is fully funded. Let us help UNRWA help Palestine refugees. I thank you.

Source: EMM/ UN