Holy See to UN on Palestinian Refugees

"Let us never give up the hope that the unquenchable quest for that peace, so much needed and desired, will eventually dawn in that land so sacred to so many"

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Here is the Nov. 7 intervention by Archbishop Francis Chullikatt, Apostolic Nuncio, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the UN, at the 68th Session of the UN General Assembly on Item 51: United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East

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Mr. Chairman,

           Having carefully reviewed the Report of the Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA)[1] as well as his address to the meeting of the UNRWA Advisory Commission held in Amman, Jordan, 16 June 2013, my Delegation wishes to draw attention to the views he expressed and the clarity of the solutions he proposes for what has become a most complex situation for Palestine refugees in the region.

In that region, which is home to the earliest Christian communities, the Catholic Church shares those same harsh realities on the ground which confront UNRWA daily. Working with generous donor agencies from the United States, Germany, Japan, Spain, the Netherlands, Ireland, the United Kingdom and other countries, the Holy See provides education, health care and social services for the population as well as rehabilitation facilities for those injured in conflicts. We provide this on the basis of need, not creed, to all victims of the region’s political, economic and social instability. Our own concerns go beyond these basic services, as do UNRWA’s, insofar as these conflicts destroy homes, rending refugees homeless, jobless and helpless. With family wage-earners debilitated, imprisoned or killed, destitute families seek assistance from NGOs serving alongside UNRWA in this troubled area.

Mr. Chairman,

             The concerns of the Commissioner-General, detailed in his reports to the General Assembly and UNRWA Advisory Commission are the  same as those of the Holy See, confronted, as we are, with an ever shrinking presence of traditional Christian communities in the very birthplace of Christianity. For both UNRWA and the Holy See the financial burdens for providing services to frequently displaced populations of refugees constitutes a growing problem, requiring more funding from donor countries. Current global financial and economic realities, however, speak against funding increases as donor countries struggle with debt and high levels of unemployment, especially youth unemployment.

             The rejuvenated peace process brings some hope to this bleak outlook. A “bona fide” peace between Israelis and Palestinians would create possibilities for economic investment rather than burdening donor countries and humanitarian agencies with more requests for additional funding. A successful peace conference on Syria scheduled to take place in Geneva would bring further relief to the suffering of Palestinian refugee populations who find themselves refugees yet again, on account of theatres of war surrounding seven of twelve UNRWA Palestine refugee camps in Syria.

             My Delegation urges the Quartet and all those assisting in the resumption of the peace process to spare no effort in facilitating negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis. The objective must be to secure through negotiation and reasonable compromise two viable and stable States which give each of the parties independent and secure States for their peoples. This is no small task in light of the political diversities which exist within each of the conflicting communities and the 64 tragic years of interminable conflict between them.

 Mr. Chairman,

             Pope Francis met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on October 17th and expressed the hope that the resumed “peace process may bear fruit and enable a just and lasting solution to be found to the conflict, an increasingly necessary and urgent objective”. He also voiced the hope that “the parties to the conflict will make courageous and determined decisions in order to promote peace, with the support of the international community”.[2]

 My Delegation accordingly wishes to underline that a lasting solution in these peace negotiations must include the status of our Holy City, Jerusalem. The Holy See firmly supports “internationally guaranteed provisions to ensure the freedom of religion and of conscience of its inhabitants,” their legitimate right to property as well as “permanent, fair and unhindered access to the Holy Places by the faithful of all religions and nationalities”.[3]

 Mr. Chairman,

             It would be remiss of my Delegation, finally, if we did not extend an expression of our appreciation to the governments of Lebanon and Jordan for their enduring collaboration with UNRWA in housing Palestine refugees and now contending heroically with the influx of refugees from Syria and the sectarian violence in Iraq. The humanitarian cries of these refugee populations must not fall on deaf ears. Peacemaking must replace the futile and counterproductive logic of violence and war. Let us never give up the hope that the unquenchable quest for that peace, so much needed and desired, will eventually dawn in that land so sacred to so many.

             Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

[1] A/68/13

[2] Vatican Information Service, Year XXII - #199, 17-10-2013.

[3] Cf. A/RES/ES – 10/12