At the outset I would like to express my deep appreciation to the Commissioner General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East Mr. Peter Hansen for his comprehensive Report on the Agency’s activities during the past year and for his excellent introductory statement.
We wish to express our great appreciation to UNRWA which through its programs of Education, Health, and Relief and social services to 3.5 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.
Cyprus as an EU Associated State has aligned itself with the statement made by the Representative of Austria on behalf of the European Union.
Moreover, as a country in the area sharing close and friendly ties with our Near East neighbors we attach great importance to the enhancement of the economic and social conditions of the Palestinian people and to the achievement of lasting peace and security in the Middle East. To this end UNRWA’s work is crucially important.
It is from our own experience of displacement and economic calamity that we can deeply appreciate the significance of assistance to alleviate human misery and to create the conditions, short and long term, for socio-economic development. We are also keenly aware of the permanent and inalienable right of return to one’s home and properties as set out in UN resolutions.
In placing high value on UNRWA’s activities and the importance of its work, we note with serious concern, as reported to us by the Commissioner General, the difficulties that the Agency is encountering in carrying out its programs due to the critical financial situation facing the Agency which negatively impacts on its services. The Secretary General of the United Nations has also underlined this situation in his Report on the Work of the Organization and has drawn attention that the Agency’s level and standard of service has continued to decline following the chronic budget shortfalls since 1993.
We also note from the Report of the Commissioner General that living standards in the Refugee communities remain poor throughout the area of operations and are characterized in some fields by high unemployment, falling household income, overburdened infrastructure and restrictions on employment and mobility.
During the last year UNRWA’s humanitarian work was carried out against a political environment of a stalemate in the Middle East peace process and a continued imposition of security measures in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. These restrictions affected the Agency’s ability to conduct its work and the daily life of Palestinians.
Despite these financial and physical obstacles the Agency’s staff have carried out their tasks undeterred and we praise their commitment and determination.
In light of these circumstances it becomes even more compelling that UNRWA’s operations be put on a secure financial footing and we join the urgent appeals for additional and increased contributions to UNRWA to alleviate this situation so that the Agency can fulfill its work.
The visit of the Secretary General of the United Nations to the region in the Spring of 1998 and the highest priority which he has given to the countries and peoples of the Middle East is greatly appreciated and commended. And we welcome his appeal for increased contributions to the Agency.
Convinced that one of the fundamental prerequisites for lasting peace and stability is the attainment of higher standards of living and a better quality of life for all peoples of the region, Cyprus has joined international efforts aiming at the economic advancement of the Palestinian People. To this end, apart from our annual cash contributions to UNRWA, which have been increased, Cyprus has developed in 1996 its own Scheme of Assistance to the Palestinians, which includes the construction of two medical centers in the West Bank [at a cost of 2.2 million U.S Dollars] and a comprehensive programme of technical assistance and training to approximately 100 Palestinian officials in Cyprus (estimated at US 200,000), which includes follow up visits by Cypriot experts to the autonomous areas.
We welcome the signing of the Wye River Memorandum on 23 October 1998 as a breakthrough for the early resumption of the negotiations on permanent status as foreseen in the Oslo Accords, as well as for implementing outstanding commitments under the Interim Agreement. We reiterate our firm commitment to a just and comprehensive settlement of the Middle East based on U.N. resolutions. We would wish to underline the importance of a sound economy to social and political stability for the Palestinian people, which is crucial to the achievement of peace.
In conclusion, we strongly support the renewal of UNRWA’s mandate.
Thank you Mr. Chairman.