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Al Mezan Center for Human Rights Hosts Mr. Peter Hansen, the UN Relief and Works Agency High-Commissioner

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3 May 2001 |Reference 22/2001

Today, 3/5/2001, Al Mezan Center for Human Rights held a meeting on “The Financial Crisis of the UN Relief and Works Agency and its Effect on the Services Provided”.
The meetings is part of our Face the Public project where we hold decision-makers accountable to the public.
The session took place at Jabalia Youth and Sports Club between 11.
00 a.
and 13.
00 a.
this morning.
First the director of the center Issam Younis welcomed the guest and gave a brief account of the difficult situation faced by the Palestinian people and in particular the refugees.
Further he mentioned that there is an increasing need to provide service to the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories.
He criticized the donor countries for not fulfilling their commitment towards the UNRWA and summed up by saying that the UNRWA is requested to provide the best possible services to the Palestinian refugees under all circumstances.
Peter Hansen thanked Al Mezan Center for organizing the meeting and pointed out the role played by UNRWA since 1950 in relieving the suffering of the Palestinian refugees.
In addition, he said that there is currently an increasing need for providing services to the Palestinian refugees and mentioned that the amount of money contributed by donors is the least since the 1960’s.
This, he said, contradicts the increasing need for greater financial resources and that there is a $70 million deficit in UNRWA budget.
He talked about the Emergency Program of Relief Aid to the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories that has been established by UNRWA in order to meet the urgent needs resulting from the current situation.
So far for this programme $40 million have been raised and a further $65 million is expected to be contributed.
He talked about the different services provided by the UNRWA in the field of education, health and housing.
After this brief introduction the discussion was opened to the floor.
The following are amongst the different issues raised by the members of Jabalia Camp: Inadequacy of the services provided by the UNRWA to the Palestinian refugees in the different fields of education, housing and health.
The political nature of the Palestinian refugee problem.
Existence of a clear UNRWA policy to overcome the difficult situation the Palestinian refugees are currently facing.
The need to provide relief aid to all the refugees in the Gaza Strip.
Providing work for the large number of unemployed refugees.
Implementation of the relevant UN resolutions.
Hanses carefully addressed the different questions raised.
He agreed that the Paletinian problem is a political one and argued that UNRWA is trying to find a solution for the humanitarian aspects of the problem.
He added that the current financial crisis is the most severe faced by UNRWA since its establishment.
He mentioned that UNRWA is not only committed to providing services but also to addressing the political questions by empowering the Palestinian refugees to build a future for themselves.
This has been exemplified by the efforts that UNRWA puts in the fields of health and education which consumes 80% of the total budget.
Also UNRWA’s microfinance project is the single largest small enterprise supporter in the Occupied Territories.
Hansen requested the Arab countries to increase their contribution to the UNRWA’s budget which currently constitutes only 1% of the total budget.
He mentioned his commitment to support the Palestinian refugees by cutting down on the number of international UNRWA employees from 150 to 100 and maintaining the number of Palestinian employees (which number more than 20,000) even.
Hansen stated that he, personally, has conveyed the picture about the current situation to donor countries and points out that he does not hold ultimate authority but is subject to willingness of the donor countries to contribute.
UNRWA cannot provide relief aid to all Palestinian refugees nor can it provide employment to all refugees.
He apologized for not having time to give everyone a chance to raise their concerns and to answer to them and promised to make himself available to whoever wanted to speak with him further.