Sixty-five years into the exile of Palestine refugees, UNRWA’s mandate is unchanged and remains clear: We, the international community, continue to ask UNRWA to assist the refugees until a just and durable solution is found. We continue to do so – both as member states and donors – in a period which creates much stress for the organization, both politically, financially and operationally. Like the other final status issues, the refugee issue continues to be protracted, as we await the peace process.
However, the refugee issue is not a constant. The population continues to grow by 3 % a year (and so does inflation), and the cost of maintaining – not improving – UNRWA’s services in a region torn by unrest is increasing.
In the midst of political upheaval in the Arab region, UNRWA plays a key role for Palestine refugees throughout the Middle East and is the key contributor to health, education and social services for thousands of Palestine refugees living in hardship.
The brunt of the challenges in the region is paid by the refugees themselves, some now displaced yet again from the relative safety of their homes, family and livelihood. The crisis in Syria is has reached catastrophic dimensions with an impact on the whole region. We are, as a consequence, facing new displacements of Palestine refugees both within and outside of Syria. This is a heavy burden on UNRWA and host countries.
UNRWA is under pressure, both politically and financially. The total refugee population is increasing, and UNRWA currently faces a shortfall of more than USD 40 million USD for the remaining months of 2013. UNRWA’s financial challenges require changes in funding, operations and partnerships with both host countries, other UN organisations and private sector.
In order for UNRWA to continue to adequately serve Palestine refugees, the international community must continue to provide sufficient funding. We all have a stake and responsibility in ensuring UNRWA’s success in its ability to carry out its mission. We welcome the contribution from new donors, as well as efforts made by the traditional donors. But more needs to be done to share the financial burden amongst donors – also amongst the Advisory Committee members. The increasing funding gap cannot be covered by the small group of UNRWAs top contributors. Keeping in mind the meeting of the Special Group of Supporters to UNRWA 26th September, we welcome the engagement by members of the League of Arab States to achieve and sustain the 7,8 % target for Arab government contributions to UNRWA’s core budget.
Furthermore, it is our common responsibility as members of the UN General Assembly to ensure a continuation of proper funding over the UN regular budgets, in particular because UNRWA is mandated by the UN General Assembly.
Continued service delivery to the refugee population requires that UNRWA continues to adapt to the changing realities in the region. Priority must be given to vulnerable refugee groups. Norway appreciates the ongoing processes to improve UNRWA's performance and we encourage the organization to carry on this process based on the next Medium Term Strategy. This strategy will play an important role in addressing sustainability and prioritization, and setting the framework for future financial planning aligned with available resources (funding). We welcome UNRWAs commitments to improve its financial procedures, including increased transparency of the budget work. Increased transparency and accountability are important for stakeholder’s ability to have a say in UNRWAs priorities and to clarify how resources are spent.
Norway greatly honors all efforts by host governments that are assisting the refugee population. Partnerships with host country governments in providing services to the refugee camps, such as electricity and water, are important and valuable contributions. Another important step is to look for further cooperation with other UN Agencies. As donors we have a responsibility to ensure that our collective contributions are spent in the most cost efficient way.
We wish to express our full support to the Agency and its staff, and our appreciation for the invaluable work performed. Every UNRWA staff should be saluted and every lost UNRWA staff is a tragedy. We deeply regret the losses of the Agency’s staff in the Syrian conflict.
UNRWA’s efforts to protect the rights of Palestine refugees have proven essential the past years. In that perspective, UNRWA’s contribution towards our common goal for the Palestinian people, in particular Palestine refugees, is a cornerstone in the total activity directed towards the Palestinian people in the coming years.
Lastly, let me underline the important role UNRWA is playing in service delivery for the Palestinian population in Gaza and the West Bank including East Jerusalem. Without the service delivery of UNRWA, education, health services and the social support system would significantly lag behind. UNRWA has over the last years been a significant contributor in making Palestine ready for statehood.