PRESS RELEASE: "SPIRIT
OF COOPERATION MARKS REFUGEE WORKING GROUP MEETING"
Switzerland hosted a meeting of the Refugee Working
Group (RWG) of the Middle East Peace Process December
12-14 in Geneva. The meeting was the first in the
multilateral peace process since the signing of the
Oslo II agreement and the tragic assassination of
Israeli Prime Minister Rabin.
Over 40 international delegations attended the meeting
including Israelis, Palestinians, Jordanians, Egyptians,
and the American and Russian co-sponsors. The meeting
concluded today with positive new initiatives to assist
Palestinian refugees. This will help develop conditions
necessary for a lasting peace in the Middle East.
The Refugee Working Group, chaired by Canada, is
part of the multilateral track of the Middle East
Peace Process. This often "quiet" track
addresses regional issues whose solutions require
coordinated action and the international community's
support. The Refugee Working Group complements and
supports the efforts of the bilateral peace process
to resolve the Palestinian refugee question, as well
as seeking to address the immediate humanitarian needs
of the refugees. The group's work also includes easing
and extending access to family reunification.
The Geneva meeting was marked by a real spirit of
cooperation -- the meeting saw Israelis speaking Arabic
to their Palestinian partners who sometimes answered
in Hebrew. There were repeated expressions of determination
by the participants to reinforce the peace process.
The impressive list of projects announced at the
plenary aimed at providing real, tangible benefits
of peace for Palestinian refugees. At the same time
the Refugee Working Group reconfirmed its commitment
to refugees in the neighbouring countries of Jordan,
Syria and Lebanon. It stressed the importance of the
gavel maintaining a dialogue with the governments
of Syria and Lebanon as well as with the Palestinian
communities in those countries.
Pledges were made under the "themes" of
the RWG: Data Bases (with Norway as lead or "shepherd"),
Family Reunification (France is the shepherd), Human
Resources Development and Job Creation and Vocational
Training (the U.S.A.), Public Health (Italy), Child
Welfare (Sweden) and Social and Economic Infrastructure
(the European Union). Switzerland reported on its
ideas for RWG projects under its new mandate for the
"human dimension" which extends across all
five multilateral working groups.
Refugees in the West Bank, Gaza, Syria, Jordan and
Lebanon will benefit from: substantial new contributions
to UNRWA's Peace Implementation Program, new school
and hospital construction and upgrading, small business
loans, improvements to infrastructure in refugee camps
and emergency housing facilities. There were some
important announcements of support for UNRWA projects.
The group authorized activities in advance of the
next meeting including a meeting in Norway on databases,
a health conference in Italy, and a meeting to advance
the question of family reunification.