December 18, 2017

Statement by the Deputy Permanent Representative of Cyprus Dr. George Kasoulides to the 4th Committee – United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees

Mr. Chairman,

At the outset I would like to express my deep appreciation to the Commissioner General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East Mr. Peter Hansen for his thorough and comprehensive Report on the Agency’s activities during the past year and for his excellent introductory statement.

We would like to express our deepest appreciation to UNRWA, which through its programs of Education, Health and Relief and Social Services to 3.7 million Palestinian Refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and West Bank and Gaza contributes to the betterment of the living conditions of the Palestinian people and to the stability in the region.  It is a sad legacy to watch the number of refugees grow every year instead of diminishing, a fact that make the relentless efforts of UNRWA even more valuable.

Cyprus, as a EU Associate State has aligned itself with the statement made by the Representative of France on behalf of the European Union.

I would be remiss if I do not start my intervention with reference to the latest disturbing developments in the area that have created a very dangerous situation and have deteriorated dramatically the living standards and living conditions especially for the Palestinian refugees in Gaza and the West Bank.  It is a bitter irony for the organization that only a few months ago celebrated in a very sober tone its half-century of existence and hoped that this was the last anniversary to celebrate.

Beyond politics, human beings have suffered greatly for this continuing crisis but we cannot but feel pride for the dedication of the international community, the donors and especially the dedicated staff of UNRWA for the relief they brought to the Palestinian refugees, the most disadvantaged members of their own community.  For the refugees themselves this is a poignant reminder of their status and conditions, displaced for fifty years, living in conditions of overcrowding and deprivation.

Cyprus, a country that shares close and friendly ties with our Near East neighbors attaches great importance to the enhancement of the economic and social conditions of the Palestinian People and fervently hopes for lasting peace and security in the Middle East.  The closeness in geography is made closer from our own experience of displacement and uprooting, following the invasion in 1974.  For a long time we had to rely on the generosity of the international community and international aid to assist our displaced population and revitalize our devastated economy.

The human suffering has to a great extent abated but our refugees are still awaiting for their return to their homes and properties and are ever hopeful that these inalienable and fundamental rights as inscribed in UN resolutions and international law should be respected and implemented.

Returning to the activities of UNRWA we would like to share our concern, as reported to us by the Commissioner General, of the serious financial difficulties that the Agency is encountering in carrying out its programs due to the critical financial situation facing the Agency.  This was also highlighted by the Secretary General in his Report on the Work of the organization with emphasis on the inevitable negative effect that this will have on the level and standard of services.  A careful reading of the report of the Commissioner General illustrates that such negative effect is already very apparent.

The last few years all our statements were full of optimism and expectation.  The peace process, a slow and painful process, gave us hope that the implementation of the UN resolutions was near.  This was shattered the last few weeks but not broken.  We firmly believe that the drive towards peace will resume and history will not repeat itself.  The role of UNRWA is even more important today.  Its operations must be put on a secure financial footing and we join the appeals for additional and increased contributions with early payments to assist the Agency to alleviate this situation and bring relief to the thousands of suffering Palestinians.

Cyprus is assisting in its own way.  We have joined the appeals for additional and increased contributions in the aftermath of the recent crisis and at the same time we have created our own Scheme of Assistance, which includes programs of technical assistance and training of Palestinian officials and civil servants in Cyprus.  On the humanitarian level we have recently dispatched medical supplies and medical personnel to assist and treat the mounting casualties.

All of us are aware that UNRWA’s work needs to continue until the solution is found to the refugee issue and even for a long period after.  The program assisted the Palestinians in preserving their identity and culture and during these testing times is will help to keep the kernel of peace alive and the reassurance to the refugees that they have not been forgotten and provide for their education, health, relief and social services.  The quest for a just and lasting settlement continues but human beings are foremost in our minds.  We hope that the situation will soon return to normalcy and that efforts will be redoubled for the survival and ultimate successful outcome of the peace process.

Thank you Mr. Chairman.