LPDC Chairman Dr. Bassel Al Hassan’s opening speech at the Advisory Commission on UNRWA

Excellencies,

Mr. Commissioner-General,

Distinguished Members of the Advisory Commission,

Dear guests and partners,

It is our honor to host you today, on World Refugee Day, in Beirut, a city intent on continuing to play a central role in framing a future worthy of Palestinian refugees.  Let us start by understanding our responsibility, as Advisory Commission Members, to acknowledge the Agency’s ongoing challenges.

These challenges will require our immediate and continued attention, as they are reflected in the lives of millions of Palestinian refugees across the Near East. Everyone here is deeply familiar with UNRWA’s funding crisis.

Our commitment to UNRWA’s mandate does not enable considering a reduction in vital services to Palestinian refugees to be a viable option if we seek to uphold human security in the region. We will stand hand-in-hand with host governments, the Agency, and our international partners to ensure that services do not stop, as they cannot stop.

Because UNRWA is not just a humanitarian Agency; because its capacity to build human capital of Palestinian refugees, of the Palestinian people, is its most precious attribute. Importantly, UNRWA’s services are delivered by the Agency’s uniquely large workforce. 

In the past few months, key lessons were learned regarding labor relations. We welcome the latest agreements to end the dispute in the West Bank. Through these events, it was clear that the Agency cannot function in crisis management mode, with critical health and education services not being delivered for months.

Among core takeaways of this strike, AdCom Members, in their recommendations to the Agency, underlined the need to better anticipate complex workforce issues, by embracing modernization, by supporting strategic vision and discussions to secure the future of this workforce, by setting in motion processes to work differently on structural labor issues, and by uplifting the contributions of UNRWA staff in enriching vibrant Palestinian communities, despite enduring shocks and protracted crises in their hosting environments.

As applied to UNRWA, the technical and political realms are inseparable. UNRWA’s multilayered challenges can only be addressed by a focus on political solutions to politically rooted crises. 

Political solutions stem from political commitment. UN Member States have affirmed this commitment in the latest session of the General Assembly, renewing UNRWA’s mandate and recognizing the seventy-fifth Anniversary of the Nakba. The Advisory Commission in which you all are sitting today stands as the only Member States body between the General Assembly and UNRWA. This is where our political support must be translated into action;

Action to reconcile, as the Commissioner-General has repeatedly mentioned:

  • the mandate of UNRWA, explicit of our international community’s support;
  • the alarming stagnation of the financial resources of the Agency;
  • and the legitimate expectations of Palestinian refugees to rely on UNRWA,

as the tangible token of their rights, for fulfilling their vital needs, while enduring armed violence, trauma, earthquakes, economic collapse, deepening poverty, and seventy-five years of forced displacement. 

Mr. Commissioner-General, the only way we can solve this equation is by embracing open and honest dialogue. It is and has been our endeavor to forge consensus on ways to address UNRWA’s ongoing crises.

This multilateral platform is our one space to hold such dialogues, in plenary and on the margins, at the heart of our region. We, as a Bureau, have undertaken efforts to foster a spirit of innovative dialogue, to strengthen the Advisory Commission and its ability to advise and assist UNRWA in executing its mandate. 

The Ad Hoc Working Group on strengthening the AdCom shone a light on the uniqueness of this Commission within the UN ecosystem, and the need to work with its particularities, such as consensus as the only mode of decision-making, to uphold its efficacy.  

I warmly thank the European Union for their efforts alongside Lebanon to steer this group, and all those Members who contributed to those efforts to foster a forward-thinking mentality, to preserve and enhance the vitality of the Commission and the Agency. This legacy of widening the dialogue must continue, by enhancing our collective understanding of our complex regional realities, by turning our eyes to the vast resources and agency of different stakeholders, of our Members, of UNRWA, and of Palestinian refugees themselves.

This is how we can channel collective will for necessary change, underpinned by a common consciousness of the imperative to solidify trust by increasing transparency from all actors, in order to define together the modalities for just change, and protect the international consensus around UNRWA as a relevant, strategic partner of choice in supporting human development and stability in the Near East.

In the end, Excellencies, humanitarian shocks, the human development of Palestinian refugees, and the regions’ politically rooted crises are inseparable, which we must keep in mind as we find better ways to address them. Here in Lebanon, our doors will remain open to host pivotal conversations on how to think about policies, strategies and prospects to protect UNRWA’s existence as a part of the future of Palestinian refugees.

During the following two days, I call upon all Members present here, to share your ideas, to contribute to our reflections, and to proceed in a spirit of openness and partnership. 

Thank you.

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