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UN: Relief Effort Sought For Palestine Refugees

UN Officials Urge Support To Relief Effort For Palestine Refugees

Senior United Nations officials today urged donors meeting at a two-day conference in Geneva to financially support relief efforts aimed at helping millions of Palestine refugees.

Peter Hansen, Commissioner-General of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), hailed the gathering but said it should not be an end in itself. "It should instead act as a catalyst to prompt wider consequences in the years to come," he said.

"How diligently we follow up will be the real mark of our collective commitment to ensuring the Palestine refugees are not short-changed," he stressed.

In a message to the event, Secretary-General Kofi Annan called attention to the wider political context. "We meet at a difficult time in the Middle East," he said. "The Palestine refugees continue to struggle to cope with increased socio-economic hardship, and are grappling with painful uncertainty about the future."

He cited compelling statistics about the need for international support, noting that since September 2000, the number of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip who rely on UNRWA for food aid has increased by almost ten-fold, from 130,000 to 1.1 million. In that same time period, the percentage of Palestinians living below the poverty line has tripled, from 20 per cent to 60 per cent.

"As if this sharply growing distress was not enough, recent months have seen a deeply troubling upsurge in violence," he said. "Indeed, at times the conflict has appeared at risk of spiralling out of control, necessitating a clear response from the international community."

Thanks to UNRWA, he said, a Palestine refugee child born today is more likely than at any time in the past, and more likely than his or her non-refugee peers in the region, to survive infancy in good health.

But he warned that under-funding the Agency has resulted in over-crowded classrooms and clinics, and in decaying UNRWA infrastructure. "There is real concern that if these tre strengths of the Palestine refugee population will begin to unravel," he observed.

Mr. Annan praised the resilience and commitment of the Palestine refugees, and appealed to all present to "reinforce the partnerships with UNRWA that you have so generously nurtured since 1950."

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