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EU Presidency Statement - UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East

Summary: October 30, 2003: Statement by Mrs Statement by Counsellor Marco Carnelos, Permanent Mission of Italy to the UN on behalf of the European Union - FOURTH COMMITTEE - Item 83 United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (New York)

Mr. Chairman,

I have the honour to speak on behalf of the European Union. The acceding countries Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia and the Associated Countries Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey as well as the EFTA Country of the European Economic Area, Iceland, align themselves with this statement.

Please allow me to stress from the outset how deeply the European Union appreciates the commitment by UNRWA’s Commissioner General Peter Hansen and by all his staff and management in fulfilling their duties under especially difficult, often very dangerous circumstances. In this context, I wish to pay tribute to the six UNRWA staff members – among whom the Project Manager of the Palestinian city of Jenin, Mr. Iain Hook – who have lost their lives while carrying out their duties this year.

The EU also wishes to express gratitude to the Governments of Jordan, Lebanon and Syria whose countries for more than five decades have been extending their kind hospitality and providing generous assistance to Palestinian refugees.

Mr. Chairman,

Since the beginning of its mandate, UNRWA has carried out relief and work programmes for the Palestinian refugees pending a political solution. Many times such a solution seemed to be within reach but unfortunately excessive acts of violence have prevailed.

Now again we are at a critical juncture. No effort should be spared to revive dialogue between the parties on the basis of their implementation in good faith of the Quartet’s Road Map. The International Community has to provide a renewed political impulse: the EU in particular is fully committed to enhancing the role of the Quartet as an international supporter of peace.

In the European Council conclusions of 17 October 2003, the European Union urged both sides to refrain from any provocative action which could further escalate the tension and immediately implement policies conducive to dialogue and negotiations. In this context, the EU welcomes the mandate given on 28 October to Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei to form a new, fully empowered Palestinian government and we hope that such government will perform its duties according to the Road Map and will receive the necessary support from the Israeli side.

The EU sincerely hopes that positive developments will soon revive the Peace Process leading without delay to a fair, stable and equitable solution to the Palestinian Refugees issue in the framework of a final and comprehensive permanent status agreement, in line with relevant UN resolutions. Until then, the services provided by UNRWA remain essential to ensure a decent life to Palestinian Refugees in the Middle East.

The EU takes note with concern of UNRWA General Commissioner’s yearly report confirming how refugees, being the most vulnerable component of the Palestinian society, are particularly affected by the severe deterioration of the humanitarian conditions in the West Bank and Gaza. We are particularly worried by the increasing malnutrition and destruction of shelters in refugee camps, conditions that most severely affect women and children. As its largest donor, the EU stands ready to assist the Agency in facing the additional burden. At the same time, we appeal to the Israeli Government to take no action that aggravates the humanitarian and economic plight of the Palestinian people and to take without delay the measures requested by the Road Map to improve their security environment and humanitarian and economic conditions.

The EU is particularly concerned about the situation of Palestinian refugee children and we call for every possible effort by the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority to give children special protection and to fully respect the rights of the child.

We also reiterate our opposition to the building of the Israeli separation barrier along the current track, not only because it departs significantly from the “Green Line” thus contradicting relevant provisions of international law and jeopardizing a political solution to the conflict, but also for its dramatic humanitarian consequences on Palestinian population.

The deteriorating situation on the ground, which resulted in lack of access, insecurity and movement restrictions, has seriously hampered the capability of all humanitarian operators including UNRWA and other UN Agencies to provide essential services. In this respect, the EU urges once more the Government of Israel to allow full, safe and unfettered access of international and humanitarian personnel and goods as required by the Road Map and to abide by principles and practices of International Humanitarian Law

Mr. Chairman,

The European Union is the largest contributor to UNRWA: the European Commission and the Member States provided altogether over 160 million Euros in 2002. Our policy is to increase our support to Palestinian refugees throughout the region. In the current year the European Commission has reinforced its support through all available source of funding. It should be pointed out again that the European Commission provided additional resources for humanitarian assistance while maintaining the level of financing of the ongoing development programmes.

We are particularly concerned by the wide financing gap existing in the emergency appeals, risking to further diminish the level of assistance provided when expectations and needs are rising. We support the Commissioner General in his effort to enlarge the donor community, particularly by including higher contributions from the Gulf Countries and other Arab and Islamic countries as well as from Islamic Financial Institutions. Also alternative means of fund raising should be further explored.

The EU is pleased with the transfer by Israel of withheld VAT and taxes to the Palestinian Authority, which enables the reimbursement of the amounts owned to UNRWA. Furthermore we call on Israel to transfer port charges and all additional storage, demurral and transit duties levied on goods destined for UNRWA.

We recognize the positive outcome of the comprehensive internal reforms the Agency started in 1999 on Donors request, and we encourage the management to keep the momentum despite the financial and logistic difficulties.

At the Donors and Host Countries meeting of September 2003, the EU suggested that UNRWA could look into the advantages, time wise and economically, of only one annual “formal” /informal meeting; the idea being that this meeting could then become more operative, while the other meetings could be turned into more informal substantive discussions in line with the recently introduced discussion fora. We would be grateful if UNRWA could consider presenting a proposal along these lines.

The EU welcomes the Agency’s active involvement in the preparation of the 2004 UN Consolidated Appeal for the Palestinian Territories. We expect a well developed appeal document that includes the full overview of UNRWA and other Agencies’ financial requirements for emergency activities and that can work as the principal tool for donors humanitarian funding to the West Bank and Gaza during 2004. In this context, may I stress the importance of the forthcoming Ad Hoc Liaison Committee meeting, scheduled to take place in Rome on 19/20 November 2003, as a unique opportunity to assess Palestinian needs and solicit a larger donors’ response.

Whilst humanitarian assistance in its nature is neutral, independent and impartial, and can therefore not be subordinated to political consideration, it definitely contributes to the international efforts aiming at a peaceful resolution to the conflict. Humanitarian needs must be assessed and addressed within the overall context of international assistance to the Palestinian Territories. A coordination process between the PA, the Donors and the UN system would enable the international community to present a single coherent approach addressing the current economic and humanitarian crisis as well as macroeconomic stabilization, welfare assistance, relief and rehabilitation.

While stressing the central role played by UNRWA with respect to the refugee population, the EU would like to put once more special emphasis on the importance of an accurate operational coordination in the emergency assistance to the Palestinian refugees. Bearing in mind the limited resources available, we hope that any financial or programme overlapping is avoided in a joint effort to respond at best possible level to the growing humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people .

Mr. Chairman,

Let me add one final note considering the statements we have just heard from the distinguished representatives of United States and Palestine on the possibility to streamline the UNRWA resolutions in 4th Committee; The European Union is fully supportive and committed to this attempt and ready to provide all the assistance necessary to achieve a reduction of the UNRWA resolutions.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

  • Ref: PRES03-296EN
  • EU source: EU Presidency
  • UN forum: Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization Affairs)
  • Date: 30/10/2003

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European Union Member States