Statement by H.E. Archbishop Bernardito Auza
Apostolic Nuncio, Permanent Observer of the Holy See
Seventy-second Session of the United Nations General Assembly
Fourth Committee Agenda Item 53: United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA)
New York, 6 November 2017
The Holy See expresses once again its deep appreciation for the invaluable work of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). The Agency deserves the encouragement and tangible support of the international community, particularly at a time when it is operating in increasingly challenging environments due to armed conflicts and deteriorating humanitarian situations in the Middle East.
My Delegation is particularly alarmed by the situation in Syria, where the on-going conflict is taking a tremendous toll on both Palestine refugees and Agency staff. UNRWA estimates that the number of people in need is rapidly approaching the total population of Palestine refugees registered in Syria, over 500,000. Thousands have been forced to leave their homes and have become internally displaced persons (IDPs). Other Palestine refugees have been forced to leave the country altogether. The Holy See also follows with grave concern the significant impact of the Syrian crisis on the neighbouring countries. Particularly in Lebanon, the growth in the number of Palestine refugees stretches the capacities of the existing camps and impacts the possibilities of Lebanon itself.
In addition to all the challenges related to the various crises in the region, the Agency also continues to face a difficult and unstable financial situation, as funding has not kept pace with the increased number and needs of Palestine refugees. From the 750,000 refugees when the Agency began its operations in 1950, UNRWA now serves around five million.
Ultimately, our goal is to render UNRWA irrelevant and useless, but the only way to do this is to deprive it of its reason for continued operations through the full implementation of UN General Assembly resolution 181 of 1947. Unfortunately, only half of that resolution has been achieved. Recent gradual attempts to move away from the Two-State solution are cause for very grave concern. The collapse in April 2014 of the peace negotiations between the two parties has led to negative unilateral actions and acts of violence stoked by inflammatory rhetoric from both parties. The straying from the Madrid peace process and the Oslo Accords of the 1990s has increased the level of frustration and desperation among the Palestinian people.
The Palestinian Question, therefore, regrettably remains prominent among all the problems affecting the Middle East today. Its resolution will have a beneficial cascading effect on the other crises in the region, and ultimately will allow UNRWA to enjoy its definitive, much deserved retirement. Until the plight of the Palestine refugees is adequately addressed, however, UNRWA’s work will continue to be invaluable to the five million of them living in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, who, without the support of the Agency, would be living in even greater misery and deeper despair.
For this reason, the Holy See reaffirms once again, as it has since 1947, its unwavering support for the right of both the State of Israel and a Palestinian State to live in peace within secure and recognized borders in an atmosphere of mutual respect and cooperation. The Holy See is convinced that the Two-State solution is the only option that would allow for the peaceful coexistence of Israel and Palestine. If they do not agree to exist side-by-side, reconciled and sovereign within mutually agreed and internationally recognized borders, peace will remain a distant dream and security an illusion. And UNRWA, though it was never meant to last this long and much less to be permanent, will continue to be needed.
While its mission and work are primarily humanitarian, the Agency remains a significant factor of stability in a troubled region. UNRWA’s goals and activities in the areas of health-care, education, decent standard of living and human rights for the Palestine refugees are safety valves to keep pent-up situations from exploding and minimize radicalization among them. Moreover, beyond the material support it gives the Palestine refugees and the indirect but significant role it plays for peace and security in the region, UNRWA also keeps alive the values of humanity, solidarity and dignity despite threatening operational challenges.
Like UNRWA and other organizations, the Holy See and many entities and organizations of the Catholic Church provide education, health-care and social services to Palestine refugees and to that population in general. Those services are provided on the basis of need, regardless of creed or any other consideration. The Holy See, like UNRWA, continues to hope for the day that such services for the Palestine refugees will no longer be needed.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.