Statement by Director of UNRWA Operations in Gaza on the Unfolding Situation

By Robert Turner – Gaza

Again the people of Gaza are suffering. The focus of the cameras will be on the dramatic footage created by massive airstrikes and people fleeing air raid sirens. But at the end of the day – in a wholesale manner – civilians in Gaza will suffer. Already 76 Gazans have reportedly been killed, including 10 children and over 500 injured, including as a result of the apparently deliberate targeting of residences. The United Nations has condemned indiscriminate rocket fire from Gaza on civilian areas in Israel and I do so again now. I also condemn use of force by Israeli security forces on Gaza that cause civilian casualties in violation of international humanitarian law.

UNRWA has been in Gaza for 64 years, providing human development and relief support to Palestine refugees. Even during this time of conflict we continue to provide critical support; just yesterday as I visited our facilities I met refugee women who, in the midst of a massive bombing operation, brought their children to our health clinic for the their vaccinations, a commitment to their children’s well-being that continues to impress me. Our staff had turned up to work, as I expected they would. Almost 600 refugees received care at that one clinic.

At one of our distribution centers I met desperately poor refugees who came out to receive their quarterly food package. 12,346 refugee families received food assistance from us yesterday as part of our regular program, one that has grown from 80,000 beneficiaries to over 830,000 since 2000. This is a direct result of the blockade of Gaza, now in its eighth year, which allows virtually no one from Gaza to leave and no access to markets and has led to the de-development of what was, not long ago, a vibrant, middle-income economy.

In Gaza our nearly 13,000 staff remain completely committed to serving the refugees. In addition to our regular programming I declared an emergency in all our five areas and our emergency procedures have been activated. We hope that all actors will exercise maximum restraint and take necessary measures to de-escalate the situation. In any event, our preparedness levels are high but not where we would like them to be. History shows us we can expect to shelter up to 50,000 displaced Gazans in our schools if a ground invasion occurs yet we hold stocks for less than 35,000, a legacy of scarce financial resources that did not allow us to replenish contingency supplies after the devastating flooding in December last year.

We have been here before. UNRWA stood with the Palestine refugees in the conflict in 2008/2009 and again in 2012. We do so now, and as our Commissioner General has reiterated, we will continue to do so until there is a just and durable solution to the refugee question.

Background Information

UNRWA is a United Nations agency established by the General Assembly in 1949 and is mandated to provide assistance and protection to a population of some 5 million registered Palestine refugees. Its mission is to help Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank and the Gaza Strip to achieve their full potential in human development, pending a just solution to their plight. UNRWA’s services encompass education, health care, relief and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, and microfinance.

Financial support to UNRWA has not kept pace with an increased demand for services caused by growing numbers of registered refugees, expanding need, and deepening poverty. As a result, the Agency’s General Fund (GF), supporting UNRWA’s core activities and 97 per cent reliant on voluntary contributions, has begun each year with a large projected deficit. Currently the deficit stands at US$ 69 million.

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