Outgoing UNRWA Head Filippo Grandi Bids Farewell at Birzeit University Lecture

Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency Filippo Grandi said that the tragic situation of the Palestinian population in Syrian refugee camps is a grave violation of human rights and should be handled cautiously to avoid serious political and humanitarian crises that threaten future peace in the Arab region.

The UNRWA head spoke on March 20, 2014 at Birzeit University on the refugee agency’s history and challenges. Grandi’s lecture was his last official speech.

"Seventy percent of the Yarmouk camp refugees,” Grandi said, ”have been displaced, and perhaps this is similar to the displacement of Palestinians from their land and homes in 1948, or even worse and more dangerous than that. The Palestinians of 1948 knew where to go and were welcomed by Arab countries, but now, most countries in the region and worldwide have rejected these displaced people, and they do not know where to go. Plus they are suffering from hunger and disease and international institutions and major countries are not helping enough.”

Grandi’s lecture was attended by President Khalil Hindi, Faculty of Law and Public Administration Dean Asem Khalil and many students and faculty members.

Speaking about the condition of refugees in the Gaza Strip, Grandi said that the Israeli occupation hinders the development process in Gaza City, where there are more than one million refugees suffering from the longest and most strict siege in the world.

Grandi criticized those who say that UNRWA plays a negative role on behalf of refugees and is an impediment to peace. "UNRWA aims to pay attention to the refugees,” he said, “and to provide aid, education and medical services. UNRWA seeks to achieve justice and to support refugees’ steadfastness and underscores the shared commitment by all parties of the international community to achieve a just and lasting peace. "

Grandi addressed the ongoing negotiations that are currently underway between Israel and the Palestinians, stating: "There will be no peace in the region without just solutions that satisfy all parties, no peace without ensuring the return of refugees to their land from which they were expelled, or finding solutions to their anguish.”

UNRWA was established by the General Assembly in 1949 to provide assistance and protection to a population of some five 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 supporting UNRWA’s core activities and reliant largely on voluntary contributions, has begun each year with a large projected deficit. Currently, the deficit stands at US$ 65 million.