UNRWA has become a lifeline for Palestinian refugees, UN Head

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Tuesday “we should not have had to mark the 65th anniversary” of the UN relief and works agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) as it was never meant to exist this long.

Speaking at an event commemorating the 65th anniversary of the agency, Ban said in the absence of a just and lasting solution to the plight of Palestine refugees, UNRWA has become a lifeline.

Participants listened to Mohamed Al Korshan, a Bedouin refugee from the West bank, who asked:

SOUNDBITE (Arabic) Mohamed Al Korshan, Palestine refugee from the West Bank, Bedouin:

“After decades of expropriation, displacement, and the denial of our rights, isn’t it time to establish justice and to live up to our aspirations of self-determination? Shouldn’t we make sure that our children will live in freedom, dignity, safety, and peace; and without fear of losing their homes and land in the future?”

Lina Meri, a Palestine refugee and UNRWA employee in Syria listed some of the personal anguished she said her family has endured. She said she is “numbed and drained by what I’ve witnessed happening to Palestine refugees and what they have been through during the crisis in Syria.”

Hanan Ashrawi, Special Representative of the President of Palestine said, “UNRWA reflects the best of what the UN can do in a global context where the political will for promoting real solutions is regrettably all-too-often lacking, necessitating long-term support to affected populations.”

She said, “The greatest success will be when UNRWA’s mission is no longer needed, when we have a just solution to the whole question of Palestine, including the refugee question.”

Israeli Ambassador David Roet said the UNRWA has a “political agenda which casts a long shadow over its humanitarian agenda.”

He said, “When UNRWA was established, their mandate included hundreds of thousands of refugees. Today, UNRWA asserts responsibility for over 5 million refugees. How did the number of refugees increase so dramatically when the purpose of a UN agency is to decrease it?”

UNRWA Commissioner-General, Pierre Krahenbuhl asked participants what they would list if they were given 30 seconds to describe landmarks of human history sInce 1950.

He said, “The Korean War and the start of the Cold War, desegregation in the United States, uprisings in Europe in the 1960s and in the Arab world in the 2010s, the end of colonialism and apartheid, the rise and fall of dictatorships in Europe, Latin America, Asia and Africa, the Berlin Wall built and brought down and the destruction of the towers here in New York; genocides in Cambodia and Rwanda; Olympic Games in 15 cities and Football World Cups in 17 countries.” He added, “Throughout this entire period, Palestine refugees have remained refugees.”

He said, “We are sometimes told that UNRWA perpetuates the status of refugeehood. The reality is that a child of an Afghan refugee in Peshawar is a refugee even 35 years later. There is one big difference however; the day that an Afghan family decides to go home there is an independent country called Afghanistan to go to. This is not the case for Palestine refugees. Their isolation, exclusion and dispossession represent a time-bomb for the region, a denial of dignity and the rights that must be addressed.”