Summary: October 29, 2001: United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees in the Near East (New York)
I have the honor to speak on behalf of the European Union. The Central and Eastern European countries associated with the European Union Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, and the associated countries Cyprus, Malta and Turkey, endorse this statement.
Allow me to begin by thanking and congratulating Commissioner-General Peter Hansen for his impressive achievements over the past year. My thanks and congratulations extend of course to the thousands of other members of staff of the Office who, despite the increasing difficulties of the situation, particularly in the occupied territories, have continued to demonstrate their dedication and an extraordinary sense of responsibility. The Commissioner-General and his team deserve our respect, our admiration and our gratitude.
Let us also remember, Mr. President, the constant, invaluable support afforded the refugees by the host countries of Lebanon, Syria and Jordan over more than five decades. These countries have often, and I am thinking particularly of the Lebanon, paid a very heavy price for taking in and provisionally meeting the needs of these refugees.
Mr. President, we were extremely interested to receive the report from the Commissioner-General on the Office's activities in the last year, which gives us a clear, detailed picture of the work of the Office, its strengths and weaknesses and the difficulties it experiences in its mission. Broadly speaking, we note that the Office assists an ever-growing number of refugees: 4 million this year as against 3,6 million last year. This assistance is provided from funds, which decrease annually in real terms and in a political and security environment, in the occupied territories in particular, which constitutes a further obstacle. I should like now to address in somewhat greater detail a number of questions, which seem to the European Union particularly worthy of note.
First of all, Mr. President, the Commissioner–General makes the point that the Office's financial difficulties have compromised its ability to assist the refugees. Although the international community has responded to emergency appeals from the Office, the contributions pledged to the third appeal remain insufficient and we hope that the donors will do their utmost to complete it. Moreover, the contributions to the regular budget are still too low when seen against inflation and the constant increase in refugee numbers. We are extremely concerned to see that the Office is having to exist from hand to mouth without even the minimum funds it needs to meet its immediate expenses and without any reserves for contingencies or to allow it to pay its staff reasonable salaries. This situation has persisted despite the Office's efforts to improve its management and its control of expenditure. The treasury of the Office is today in a critical situation. 65 millions dollars have still to be paid from the 289 millions promised for the budget of this year. We are concerned that, despite everything, the Office still has no solid financial basis. It is essential therefore to strive to broaden the number of donors to the Office, particularly where the regular budget is concerned. In the past year, the European efforts have increased. The Union through the European Commission, and its Member States are the principal donors, regarding the ordinary budget as well as the emergency appeals, by providing a total of $200 million.
Secondly, Mr. President, we can only deplore the obstacles the Office faces to its daily activities in the occupied Palestinian territories. We would point out in this connection that the European Union has frequently approached the Israeli authorities to lift the closures in the occupied territories and stop destroying the socio-economic activity of the Palestinian population. It is high time that the freedom of movement of persons and goods in and between the occupied territories be restored. We also deplore the fact that the Office's task is made difficult, not to say impossible by the Israeli authorities that have blocked humanitarian and medical convoys and which military actions have caused degradations to equipments and infrastructures of the Office. This situation is unacceptable in our view, and we call upon the Israeli Government to facilitate access to Palestinian populations for humanitarian staff and assistance. We also call upon the Israeli authorities to transfer the VAT amount owed to the Palestinian authority in order to reimburse 15 millions dollars to the Office, as well as we call on them to transfer the owed harbor-duties. Furthermore, the closures in the occupied territories have had serious economic, humanitarian and administrative repercussions on the Palestinian population. The fall in economic indicators shows how serious the situation is. These measures all constitute obstacles to the Office's activities, and the European Union urges the parties to seek, together with the Commissioner-General, speedy, practical and satisfactory solutions which will enable the Office to fulfill its mission.
Finally, Mr. President, despite the problems the Office experiences in carrying out its task, the European Union would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the Office for the quality of service it has provided to the Palestinian refugees. The results achieved in the areas of health and education in particular are impressive and we can only encourage it to press on with its efforts along the same lines as last year.
Until such time as a comprehensive, just and lasting peace can be achieved on the basis of Resolutions 242 and 338 of the Security Council, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East has a mandate to fulfill for which it must have the necessary resources at its disposal. The European Union will continue to support the work of the Office both politically and financially. The principle underpinning its mission and the way in which that mission is implemented are entirely satisfactory to us and we hope to be able to help it, in the light of its Commissioner-General's report, to improve the quality and range of its services.
Thank you, Mr. President.