Statement by H.E. Mr. Y. Halit Çevik Permanent Representative of Turkey to the United Nations

Y. Halit Çevik 05.11.2014
Mr. Chairman,

Let me at the outset thank Mr. Pierre Krähenbühl, UNRWA Commissioner-General, for joining the Committee’s deliberations and for his insightful briefing.

Yesterday, the Committee has listened to the report presented by Ms. Meena Syed, Rapporteur of the Working Group on the Financing of UNRWA. As the Chair of the Working Group, I take this opportunity to highlight the grave challenges UNRWA faces today.

Mr. Chairman,

The situation in Palestine remains a source of concern to us for both humanitarian and political reasons. The already dire conditions of the Palestinian refugees have continued to worsen this year too.

Moreover, the alarming developments in the wider region have contributed to the further deterioration of the circumstances at spots where the Palestinian refugees sought temporary shelter.

The spiral of violence in Syria continues to be a major concern in this regard. In Turkey, we also feel the strain of the Syrian crisis due to the grave humanitarian and security situation on the ground. A large percentage of the Palestinian refugee population is displaced due to the ongoing violence. As of September 2014, out of 540,000 Palestine refugees in Syria, 270,000 are displaced within Syria and they are all in need of assistance. The crisis has direct repercussions on the operations of UNRWA. The situation in Syria also negatively affects the response capabilities of neighboring countries to displacement, as well as the UNRWA programs in Lebanon and Jordan.

Mr. Chairman,

UNRWA’s laudable efforts have contributed to the prevention of a worse humanitarian scenario. Mr. Krähenbühl and his team at UNRWA deserve our highest appreciation for the tireless efforts they put into the improvement of the conditions of Palestinian refugees.

The Report of the Working Group highlights the encouraging achievements of UNRWA in expanding its donor base and enhancing effective spending of its budget. It also recognizes UNRWA’s challenges due to the increasing refugee population and the worsening conditions which they live in.

The most important challenge is the anticipated funding gap in UNRWA’s budget and the structural underfunding of the Agency. In a time when UNRWA’s role and contributions are more important than ever, the Agency is facing a shortfall of 58 million USD on its General Fund in 2014. This shortfall was approximately 48 million USD in 2013. Coupled with the large gap anticipated for the Gaza Reconstruction and Emergency Appeal and the Syrian Regional Crisis Plan, the financial challenges of UNRWA are indeed worrisome, which runs the risk of seriously affecting the core functions and services of UNRWA. Yesterday, the Commissioner-General made a striking remark in his presentation. He said, I quote, “If this funding trend continues, it will effectively mean UNRWA is forced to give up its focus on human development and give priority to life-saving activities only.” This is a serious concern for all since it is directly related to the Palestine refugee problem, a major component of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In this regard, we need to support UNRWA for the continuation of its core functions and services.

In addition to its financial difficulties, UNRWA is also facing operational challenges due to the increasing political and security risks in its five field operations. Tight restrictions on the movement of UNRWA staff and humanitarian goods continue to be a matter of concern. Israeli security procedures and the ongoing blockade on Gaza significantly increase the cost of operations. The opening of the crossings between Israel and Gaza for the entry of the necessary equipment for reconstruction and urgent humanitarian needs should be sustained. From this perspective, we welcome the trilateral agreement, brokered by the UN, on a temporary mechanism between Israel, Palestine and the UN to secure the entry of reconstruction materials to Gaza. All sides should contribute in good faith to the implementation of this agreement.

Mr. Chairman,

We strongly encourage the international community to redouble its efforts to close the gaps and thus enable UNRWA to effectively respond to the needs of the 5.1 million Palestine refugees.

I would like to express our gratitude to the traditional donors for their continued support to UNRWA. We also welcome the efforts to expand the donor base of the Agency to include contributions of non-traditional donors.

Taking this opportunity, I would like to reiterate our increasing financial and humanitarian contribution to UNRWA over the past years. The total amount of our official development assistance to Palestine during the last decade has reached 350 million USD. More recently, we have announced an additional 200 million USD for the reconstruction of Gaza for the period of 2014-2017 at the Cairo Conference. We have also mobilized all our relevant agencies in order to address the current humanitarian emergency in Gaza. 32 million USD has been collected in a nation-wide aid campaign.

In addition to the aid we channeled through UNRWA, the transfer of wounded Palestinians (so far 123) to Turkey, the construction of an hospital in Gaza, our projects to supply humanitarian aid, fuel, electricity and water will continue.

Mr. Chairman,

The recent developments in Palestine once again demonstrated the urgency of finding a negotiated political settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, based on two states, living side by side in peace and security within the pre-1967 borders, and in accordance with the relevant UN resolutions and the Arab Peace Initiative. Blockades, ongoing settlement activities, settler violence, arrests, forced displacement, house demolitions, excessive use of force against civilians, disrespectful and illegal acts targeting the Holy Sites, military raids and incursions should cease. In this respect, we strongly condemn the Israelis’ violations and provocations of today in Al-Aqsa. Palestinian unity is also imperative to reach a lasting solution. With this understanding, we support President Abbas’ initiative announced at the UN General Assembly regarding the adoption of a UNSC resolution.

Turkey, in cooperation with its international partners, will continue with its efforts towards finding a just, comprehensive and lasting settlement to the conflict. We remain committed to support our Palestinian brothers and sisters in their objective of living in peace, prosperity and dignity.

Thank you Mr. Chairman.