Statement by Ambassador Hjálmar W. Hannesson, Permanent Representative of Iceland to the United Nations.
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA)
This is the first time Iceland takes the floor in the Fourth Committee during the 62nd session. Let me therefore begin by congratulating you and other members of the Bureau, on your election. At the same time I reassure you of my delegation’s full cooperation and support.
Furthermore, I would like to thank Mrs. Karen Koning Abu Zayd, the Commissioner-General of UNRWA, for a comprehensive and enlightening Annual Report which provides a solid basis for our discussions. I would also like to thank her for her statement which gives a valuable insight into the situation in the area from somebody who is based in Gaza, and is in close contact on a daily basis with people on the ground.
The 2006 Annual Report shows that despite times of exceptional hardship and suffering in the region, UNRWA has been able to deliver substantial results.
On the humanitarian front, UNRWA played a central role in easing the suffering of both refugees and Lebanese civilians during its emergency operations in Lebanon and on the Gaza Strip. Under often life-threatening conditions, UNRWA’s staff showed relentless dedication to the Agency’s responsibilities, for which the international community, including Iceland, is truly grateful.
UNRWA has also worked determinedly towards improving the human development of the 4.5 million refugees served by the Agency. Be it in the field of education, health, relief and social services or microfinance, UNRWA is the backbone of the daily existence for many Palestine refugees, providing them with the services and tools to improve their lives.
It is for these reasons that the Government of Iceland regards UNRWA as its main partner in Iceland's support to Palestine refugees.
Iceland welcomes the three year organizational development reform that is being undertaken by UNRWA, and believes that the results of these efforts will translate into a more agile and strategic Agency, better equipped to fulfil its mandate.
However, it is clear that for these reforms to be successful, the low number of international staff allocated to UNRWA has to be addressed. The Agency’s funding from the UN regular budget therefore needs to be reviewed, and Iceland is willing to support such efforts during this year’s program budget negotiations. Moreover, Iceland intends to offer secondment as a support to UNRWA.
It is disturbing that restrictions on movement and access in the occupied territories (oPt) are seriously affecting the Agency’s work, resulting in daily difficulties in program implementation and in responding to humanitarian needs. Other restrictions have resulted in considerable direct costs for UNRWA - costs that an already under-funded agency cannot afford to bear. We are furthermore informed by the Agency that it is facing, and has been given to understand it will continue to face, unprecedented restrictions in access to communities in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. It should be remembered that UNRWA is an arm of the UN with a vital role and that its access should be facilitated, not hindered.
I would like to conclude by expressing Iceland’s deep concern about the serious humanitarian situation in Gaza where the vast majority is currently dependant on food assistance from UNRWA and other international organizations. We would like to call upon the Israeli authorities to ease access in and out of Gaza for both humanitarian reasons and for commercial flows. Furthermore, it needs to be ensured that necessary security measures do not entail collective punishment which cannot be justified under any circumstances.
The opening of the crossings in and out of Gaza is essential to ensure the viability of the Palestinian economy and improve the living conditions of the inhabitants, most of whom are Palestine refugees. Pessimism is gaining ground, and children and young people, the majority of Gazans, are increasingly losing faith in the future. Unfortunately, and as we all know, history has repeatedly shown that despair breeds divisions and extremism, often further aggravating the already serious social conditions.
We were therefore glad to hear from Mrs. Abu Zed earlier this afternoon that a meeting between the director of UNRWA in Gaza and Israeli authorities on the easing of access in and out of Gaza took place this morning. We hope that this is a sign of much needed improvements.
Under the current circumstances in Gaza UNRWA’s presence and provision of services is more crucial than ever. In this regard the Agency should be commended for the initiatives on the Schools of Excellence and the Summer Games, two initiatives which benefit the large population of children in Gaza, despite the extremely difficult operational environment in which these initiatives take place. It demonstrates how much determination there is within the Agency, as well as among the refugee population, not to give in to circumstances which are out of their control.
Recently there have been signs for hope and optimism in the region. Faced with this window of opportunity, UNRWA is ever more important, not least as an element of stability. It is therefore essential that UNRWA has the necessary financial resources to respond effectively to the needs of the most vulnerable, and particularly to those of young Palestinians.
Iceland acknowledges this importance, and has over the past years been steadily strengthening its support to the Agency. Moreover, in recognition of the excellent work of UNRWA, I’m pleased to announce that the Government of Iceland has decided to increase Iceland’s contribution to 300.000 USD for 2008 and to 500.000 USD for 2009.
Thank you Mr. Chairman