Summary: 4 November 2014, New York – Statement by H.E. Mr. Ioannis Vrailas, Deputy Head of the Delegation of the European Union to the United Nations, at the 69th Session of the UN General Assembly Fourth Committee on Agenda item 50 – United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East
– As delivered –
I have the honour to speak on behalf of the European Union and its Member States.
The Candidate Countries the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia∗, Montenegro∗, Serbia∗and Albania∗, the country of the Stabilisation and Association Process and potential candidate Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova, align themselves with this statement.
I would like to begin by extending a warm welcome to UNRWA’s new Commissioner General Pierre Krähenbühl and commend him for the leadership he has already shown at the helm of the Agency. We wish you all success in tackling the many difficult challenges ahead and we assure you that you will be able to count on our full support.
I would also like to express the European Union’s deep appreciation for the invaluable work performed by UNRWA across its five fields of operation in a context that has become increasingly unstable and difficult. We wish to express here our great appreciation for the dedication and commitment of UNRWA’s staff who work every day under difficult and often dangerous circumstances. We also express our deepest condolences to the colleagues and families of UNRWA workers who lost their lives while on duty.
The July and August hostilities in Gaza and Israel caused immense suffering in the civilian population and directly affected UNRWA, once again forcing the Agency to step up its humanitarian and protection assistance in light of the devastating toll the events had on Palestine refugees and civilians in the Gaza Strip. The EU welcomes the ceasefire which has been in place since August 26 and the successful outcome of the “Cairo Conference on Palestine – Reconstructing Gaza” held on 12 October 2014. The EU and its member states pledged an overall contribution of 468 million Euro for the reconstruction in Gaza.
At the same time, as many, including the Secretary-General, stressed during the Security Council Open Debate on the situation in the Middle East of October 21, the international community cannot be expected to pick up the pieces and to pick up the bill after each new round of violence. Fundamental and durable change has to be brought to the Gaza Strip and the underlying causes of the violence must be addressed. The parties need to take the political steps necessary to agree a durable ceasefire and to end the cycle of violence. We regret that the ceasefire talks scheduled for 27 October did not take place due to violence in the Sinai. We urge the parties to resume the talks as soon as possible.
While the hostilities were on-going, the EU condemned the indiscriminate firing of rockets by Hamas and other militant groups in the Gaza Strip andtheir calls on the civilian population of Gaza to provide themselves as human shields. While recognizing Israel’s legitimate right to defend itself against any attacks, weunderlined that the Israeli military operation had to be proportionate and in line with international humanitarian law. More specifically, with regards to UNRWA, we condemned the shelling of UNRWA schools in Gaza, noting that it was unacceptable that innocent displaced civilians, who were taking shelter in designated UN areas after being called on by the Israeli military to evacuate their homes, had been killed. We also called on all parties to respect the inviolability and the integrity of UN premises.
We stress once again, that these and all other alleged violations of international humanitarian law by all sides, including alleged uses of UN facilities for military purposes, must be investigated according to international standards. All victims or their families must have access to justice in view of ensuring full accountability.
It is now essential that the Palestinian Authority assumes its full governmental responsibilities in the Gaza Strip and that the government of Israel lifts restrictions to socio-economic development, particularly in the field of movement and access. The understanding reached on 25 September by the Palestinian parties and the meeting of the Palestinian consensus government in Gaza on 9 October 2014 are positive steps going in the right direction which should be pursued further. We also welcome the temporary monitoring mechanism negotiated by the United Nations, Israel and the PA, as a first step towards the necessary opening of all crossing points, as well as initial measures announced by Israel on movement and access which should be implemented and expanded.
Ultimately, a sustainable solution to the situation in Gaza and to the plight of Palestine refugees will only come through a comprehensive, final and negotiated peace agreement based on a two-state solution. In urging the parties to establish a durable ceasefire and resume meaningful negotiations, we remain convinced that clear parameters defining the basis for negotiations – such as the ones set out by the EU in several Council Conclusions, including in July 2014 – are key elements for a successful outcome.
UNRWA is also faced with another terrible crisis in Syria, where on-going conflict is exacting a terrible toll on Palestine refugees and UNRWA staff. 14 UNRWA staff have been killed as a result of the conflict, and 26 are currently detained or missing. Palestinians refugee camps and neighbourhoods continue to experience intense armed engagements and are too often arbitrarily deprived of humanitarian assistance, in particular in Yarmouk, Khan Eshieh, in villages to the west of Dera’a and in other locations. The EU calls once again on all parties to the Syrian conflict, and in particular on the Assad regime, to fully implement all provisions of Security Council resolution 2139 and 2165 and of the Presidential Statement of 2 October 2013, in particular by taking appropriate steps to protect civilians, including by desisting from attacks directed against civilian objects – which quite clearly include UNRWA’s premises and facilities and Palestine refugees camps – and by facilitating safe, comprehensive and unhindered access to all those in need of humanitarian assistance.
The EU is deeply grateful to neighbouring countries for their generosity in sheltering displaced refugees from Syria and acknowledges the burden that this influx is creating. We reaffirm our commitment to continue to provide assistance to support the resilience of both refugees and host communities in countries affected by the crisis. At the same time, we are alarmed by reports of Palestinian refugees being turned back as they attempt to flee the conflict, and we reaffirm the importance of the principle of non-refoulement, encouraging countries neighbouring Syria to protect all people fleeing from violence in Syria, including Palestinians.
The European Union and its member states remain the largest provider of international assistance to Palestine refugees. Despite austerity measures affecting our capitals, in 2013 the EU and its Member States contributed over half of all donors’ support to UNRWA’s General Fund and about 43% of all contributions to the Agency’s overall 1.1 billion USD operations. Last June, the European Commission and UNRWA agreed on a Joint Declaration on the European Union support to UNRWA for the years 2014-16, which set out a European Union multi-year commitment which will provide much needed predictability to UNRWA. We encourage other donors to follow suit.
As UNRWA’s main donors, the EU and its Member States remain committed to ensuring the continuity of UNRWA’s essential work, but at the same time we are increasingly concerned by a financial situation that, as we have repeatedly stated, is clearly not sustainable. We need to find ways to meet increased needs in a financially sustainable manner. In parallel, we encourage UNRWA to take strategic action above and beyond immediate remedial measures. We call once again on other donors, including first time contributors, to share the burden, for we all have a stake and a responsibility in ensuring UNRWA’s success in carrying out its mission. In this framework, we recall the important 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.
In the medium- to long-term, we welcome UNRWA’s Medium Term Strategy for 2016-2021 and the equally important Strategic Response Plans which will translate it into action. The MTS will constitute an important tool for the Agency in addressing the challenges at hand, including increasing demand for its services, a dire financial situation and the need to organise its service delivery in a more efficient and effective way . With UNRWA in the lead, global strategic alliances and partnerships are becoming increasingly necessary to relieve UNRWA’s core budget. The goal is to ensure that UNRWA remains in a position to plan and deliver its core services within the framework of a manageable budget and adequate financing. The EU remains committed to support the Agency in advancing its strategic plans.
It has been a difficult year for the region, for UNRWA and for the Palestine refugees. Through the brave and committed work of its staff, the Agency has continued to provide essential support to refugee families, thus keeping alive the values of humanity, solidarity and dignity and trying to preserve the future for younger generations who, in particular in Syria and in the Gaza Strip, have already known too much suffering and too much violence in their lives. The European Union and its member states will continue to support UNRWA in its essential work, until there is a just, fair and agreed solution to the refugee question as part of a comprehensive future settlement of all final status issues.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
* The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Albania continue to be part of the Stabilisation and Association Process.
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