Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks to 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), in New York today:
Allow me before conveying to you my message as Secretary-General in relation to the dramatic needs of support of UNRWA — because this is a matter that really is very emotional to me — to suggest an exercise to all of us.
Let’s imagine that I’m not Secretary-General of the United Nations, and you are not distinguished representatives of Member States in the United Nations. But let’s imagine for a moment that we are a young man or woman Palestinian refugee living in Lebanon, or in Syria, or in Jordan or in Gaza.
The perspective of a political solution for your country is more far away than ever. There [is] no peace process taking place. The most relevant global actors, the [Middle East] Quartet, is not able to meet, not even able to meet at ministerial levels.
Several countries, even in the region, seem to accept the status quo, and we see settlements moving on — evictions taking place — [with] no hope for a political solution.
At the same time, with the war in Ukraine, with other important events in the world, the Palestinian question is far from the headlines of the international media, and far from the centre of political debates in international fora.
And now, one thing that has been working effectively — promoting education, health care and a number of other vital forms of support to the Palestinian refugee population — is threatened to have a financial collapse.
Imagine yourselves in this situation, imagine what you would feel, and imagine what it would be for someone from ISIS to come to you and to say, “what are you doing, persisting in having hope, why don’t you just join us and try to do whatever”, you know, the things that are more and more happening with terrorist organizations around the world.
So, it’s really a matter of justice, it’s really a matter of real needs of people in a very vulnerable and sometimes hopeless situation. But it is also a barrier to the progression of extremism, to the progression of terrorism, to the progression of all the threats that are now more and more growing in our world.
So, thank you for taking part in this pledging conference for UNRWA and its essential work for Palestine refugees.
Your support enables over half a million children to receive quality education in UNRWA schools. It allows 140 clinics to offer over 8 million medical consultations per year. In regions where poverty rates can exceed 80 per cent, it provides cash, food assistance and social services to millions of people.
But, as we all know so well, this vital Agency suffers from chronic underfunding. In the last 10 years, the needs of Palestine refugees have increased, while funds have stagnated.
UNRWA has worked hard to absorb the annual funding shortage through programme efficiencies — but that alone will never solve the problem.
And so, we are asking for your solidarity and your support. And the ask, specifically, is twofold.
First, I’m appealing to you to make pledges today that will bridge the gap between the mandate of UNRWA and the budget needed to ensure vital services to Palestine refugees until the end of this year — to bring UNRWA’s current shortfall down to zero.
Some of you have already generously stepped up. I thank you and ask — if possible — to increase your contributions and political support and invest in hope for Palestine refugees. I also urge key donors, who have not had the opportunity to come forward this year, to do your part and ensure that UNRWA is fully funded.
Second, we must put the Agency on a durable financial footing. That requires a long-term plan to stabilize the financing of UNRWA and together, reach sufficient, predictable and sustainable funding.
Millions of Palestine refugees are counting on us to relieve their suffering and to help them build a better future. We cannot let them down. We are all too aware of the current global situation.
The war in Ukraine demands our attention, but we must work to address all crises with determination. And this includes the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the plight of Palestine refugees.
I reiterate the importance of pursuing peace efforts to realize the vision of two States, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security, with Jerusalem as the capital of both States.
But until then, UNRWA remains vital in supporting those in need. Members of the United Nations General Assembly collectively committed to providing assistance to Palestine refugees [by] creating and supporting UNRWA.
Multilateralism requires not only political commitments but also resources to implement them. The United Nations family will pursue every avenue to sustain services to Palestine refugees in line with the UNRWA mandate.
Investing in UNRWA means investing in stability for the region. It means investing in the economic and social well-being of Palestine refugees and advancing the Sustainable Development Goals.
It means investing in the future through education of children and youth, girls and boys, young women and men. And it means honouring the commitment of the international community to Palestine refugees and their rights until a just and durable political solution is found.
Today, let us pledge to support UNRWA and leave no one behind.