My dear colleagues, my dear friends,
The Holy month of Ramadan is here.
All my warmest wishes for a blessed, Holy month to you and your families.
Ramadan is the month of peace and tolerance. It is a time for families to come together to share their food and their faith.
Since my message to you at the end of last year, the region has continued to live through hardship, conflicts, turmoil, poverty and injustice.
Palestine Refugees continue to be one of the most vulnerable communities in the region.
UNRWA- meanwhile- continued to support them, through its teachers, doctors, sanitation laborers, social workers and other staff.
In the West Bank, 46 Palestine refugees were killed this year alone. Palestine refugee camps continue to endure unprecedented levels of violence.
As the region marked Mother’s Day this week, I think about all the mothers who lost children and the grief and pain of many Palestinian families who lost loved ones.
In Syria, after 12 years of brutal conflict, a devasting earthquake shattered the lives of thousands of people among them Palestine refugees.
In Gaza, people continue to be trapped in a crippling blockade.
In Lebanon, Palestine refugees are braving the harshest economic crisis in over 100 years.
And finally in Jordan, people are struggling to make ends meet amid high levels of unemployment and very narrow prospects for economic recovery after the pandemic.
Over the last six months, I have met my UNRWA colleagues in Balata and Aqbat Jabr camps in the West Bank, Raffah and Deir El-Balah camps in Gaza, Yarmouk, Neirab and Ein El Tal camps in Syria, Beddawi and Burj Barajneh camps in Lebanon and Zarqa camp in Jordan.
In the middle of these challenges, it is always a true privilege to witness your determination, perseverance and hard work. Through your dedication, Palestine refugees receive services that help them achieve their right to a dignified life, Bi-Karama.
It has always been my and my senior management’s priority to ensure that all salaries to all personnel continue without interruption or reduction, despite the huge financial challenges that UNRWA continues to face. I firmly believe that prioritizing the full and timely payment of salaries is a staff right that should never be questioned or compromised.
The last few months have been very difficult in the Agency. The strike in the West Bank is depriving over 900,000 refugees of critical services. It means that over 40,000 children are not in schools, over 46,000 patients of Non-Communicable Diseases are not receiving medicines. Solid waste is accumulating, and the most vulnerable refugees are not receiving referral services.
In all my visits to Palestine refugee families and in discussions with colleagues, I see firsthand how difficult it has become to maintain living standards and support families.
You have heard me repeat to the Agency’s partners and donors the seriousness of our financial crisis. You have also heard me repeat to them that my priority will always be to protect the services to Palestine refugees and salaries to staff. And you have seen regular incremental increases in your salaries, despite the immense financial challenges.
I intend to bring this conversation to the attention of the UNRWA Advisory Committee members to discuss future options that enable the delivery of services to Palestine refugees, respect the rights of staff and allow for the financial sustainability of the Agency.
In the spirit of the Holy month, I appeal to our staff who are on strike to bring it to an end today.
This will allow us to continue all our operations: programmes and administrative alike.
We will all enjoy this Holy month with our families and loved ones without any interruption and in line with the spirit of peace and tolerance of this holy month.
I, and the senior UNRWA management at UNRWA, are committed to find a solution that has at its heart the benefit of the people we are all here to serve: the Palestine Refugees.
Thank you, Shukran, Ramadan Kareem