Statement by H.E. Archbishop Bernardito Auza
Apostolic Nuncio, Permanent Observer of the Holy See
Seventy-first Session of the United Nations General Assembly
Fourth Committee Agenda Item 49: United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA)
New York, 4 November 2016
My delegation has reviewed with great care the 2015 Annual Report of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). This report, together with the frequent briefings focusing on the refugees served by UNRWA, paint a very sobering picture of the financial woes and of the unacceptable situation that more than five million Palestinians in need of humanitarian assistance found themselves in.
Before my delegation addresses the important issues in the report, it wishes to extend prayers and condolences to the families of the UNRWA workers who have been killed while providing humanitarian aid to victims of conflict and political turmoil. We also offer our heartfelt prayers for the UNRWA workers who have been injured in the line of duty.
The Holy See notes that the areas where UNRWA exercises its responsibilities includes territories of the ancient Christian heartland where for two millennia Christians have been part and parcel of the culture and history of the peoples in the region, along with other ethnic and religious groups. Greatly reduced in number, they are today among the refugees served by UNRWA. Forced by violent persecution, in some places by outright slaughter, and by the harsh geopolitical realities of the region, they have left their homes, becoming internally displaced or leaving in search of peace and security outside the region.
Like UNRWA, various entities and organizations of the Catholic Church provide education, health-care and social services to the internally displaced and to the refugees. They include educational programs for children and adults and rehabilitation efforts for those physically and mentally traumatized by incessant conflict. These services are provided to all in need not on the basis of creed. Generous donors associated with the Catholic Church around the globe, such as the Pontifical Mission for Palestine, the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, the Aid to Church in Need, the Knights and Ladies of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, inter alia, make these activities possible. Like UNRWA, the works of the Holy See in the region are donor driven.
One of the problems mentioned in the 2015 UNRWA report is that resources do not match the ever-increasing needs. The peace process between Israelis and Palestinians has stalled. Unilateral actions and inflammatory rhetoric have led to tensions and violence in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.
The Holy See views the holy City of Jerusalem as the spiritual patrimony of the three monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. In this context, the Holy See renews its support for a comprehensive, just and lasting solution to the question of the City of Jerusalem, which should, inter alia, ensure the freedom of religion and of conscience of all its inhabitants, as well as the secure, free and unhindered access to the Holy Places by the faithful of all religions and nationalities.
My delegation notes with grave concern that, as indicated in the UNRWA report under consideration, heinous crimes are being committed daily against refugee populations as their education, health-care facilities and essential civilian infrastructure are being targeted by the warring parties. Because of the besiegement and bombardment by indiscriminate weaponry, Palestinian refugees in Syria must flee again as camps become targets of military actions. The 2015 UNRWA report, along with daily media reports, do not give us much hope that all these barbaric acts against the civilian population along with the Palestinian refugees will end soon.
The Holy See takes this opportunity once more to express its deep gratitude and appreciation to the people of Lebanon and Jordan for their enduring collaboration with UNRWA, in particular for taking in many Palestinian refugees, and for contending heroically, together with some other countries in the region, with the influx of refugees from Iraq and Syria.
Lebanon, desperately needs the attention and the support of the International Community to stabilize its institutions, protect its four million or so citizens, and to deal with millions of refugees fleeing the conflicts of the Near East Region.
Jordan, long a beacon in the acceptance of refugees within its borders, requires as well international assistance to take care of the millions of refugees in its territory, to guarantee security and social cohesion to its own people, and to fend off attempts by terrorist and extremists groups seeking to push Jordan into the spiral of violence which plagues the region.
Peacemaking and substantive dialogue including genuine bilateral negotiations must replace the counterproductive illogic of violence and war, currently underway in the Middle East. Military solutions and the support of client states or non-state actors by the industrialized nations of the world have succeeded only in the increase of civilian casualties, with death and injury, as the horrendously powerful weapons which they sold or gifted to their clients are used to commit crimes against defenseless civilians. Accessible humanitarian assistance for the refugees and the internally displaced must replace the current flood of weapons inundating the region from all over the globe.
No matter how grim the picture might be, let us never give up hope that the unquenchable quest for peace, so much desired and so much needed, will eventually dawn in that land so significant to all and so sacred to many.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.