Pakistan announces fresh support to UN agency that assists Palestinian refugees
"The international community must not fail the Palestinian people," Ambassador Maleeha Lodhi told the pledging event for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine (UNRWA) held at UN headquarters in New York on Tuesday.
UNRWA ran into deep financial trouble more than a year ago when the Trump administration stopped US funding of UNRWA, and called for the agency to be dissolved, saying it was no longer justified 70 years after the start of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the creation of Israel.
"Today, I humbly ask all donors to maintain their support for UNRWA at last year's level," UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said as he opened the pledging conference.
"We know what is at risk: education for a half million children; 8 million health care visits a year; emergency relief for 1.5 million. In Gaza alone, one million Palestine refugees depend on UNRWA for food," he said.
Last year, UNRWA relied on extra money from member states and internal savings to cover a US $ 446 million budgetary gaps. This year it unveiled a budget of US $1.2 billion, unchanged from 2018.
Founded in 1949, UNRWA runs schools and provides health care for some five million Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip.
In her remarks, Ambassador Lodhi backed the UN chief's call, saying Pakistan would make a "voluntary contribution that is commensurate to the contribution we made to UNRWA, last year."
"Amid all their trials and tribulations, Palestinian refugees have indeed, been reassured in their hopes by the constant presence of UNRWA," the Pakistani envoy said.
Earlier, two teenage students from the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza --Hanan Abu Asbeh and Hatem Hamdouna -- who were elected to represent 536,000 UNRWA students from Gaza and the West Bank made moving presentations of their harrowing experiences and the importance of UNRWA schools in their lives.
"In the youthful voices of the student Parliamentarians, Hatem and Hanan", she said, "We have not only seen the hopeful face of the Palestinian future but also heard the tangible contribution that UNRWA continues to make to the lives of ordinary Palestinians, every day."
Ambassador Lodhi said the role of UNRWA was, therefore, both imperative as well as laudable in a challenging environment. "All the more so, as the prospect for a just settlement of the Palestine issue, appears to have sadly, become more distant," she lamented.
Over five million Palestinian refugees are not just a statistic, she said – they were human beings, as radiant as Hatem and Hanan, their eyes glowing with hopes, aspirations and dreams of a peaceful and prosperous tomorrow.
"Pakistan’s commitment to our Palestinian brothers and sisters is firm and abiding," Ambassador Lodhi said.
She recalled that at the recent Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) summit in Makkah, Prime Minister Imran Khan reaffirmed Pakistan’s steadfast support to the Palestinian cause, including the establishment of a two-state solution with Al-Quds Al-Sharif as its capital.
"There is no other pathway to peace," the Pakistani envoy said. "We hope and pray that the new dawn of Palestinian statehood will emerge sooner rather than later when Palestinian refugees can finally return to their homes, and UNRWA, having fulfilled its objective, will no longer be needed," she said.
"Till that time, Pakistan remains committed to the cause of Palestine and the important work of UNRWA."
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