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Notes for Remarks by Andrew Robinson
Director-General, MEPP Coordination Bureau
Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade
and Gavel-Holder Refugee Working Group

UNRWA Donors' Meeting, May 9, 1996
Amman, May 9,1996

Mr. Commissioner General, Mr. Chairman.....

I should like to thank the Commissioner General for his kind invitation to address this meeting in my capacity as Gavel Holder of the Refugee Working Group. In that capacity, I would like to take a few minutes of your time to bring you up to date on the activity of the RWG in recent months and to talk a little about some of the future directions of the group. While saying this, I do so in the recognition that, with a few exceptions, most of the governments and delegations represented around this table are also among the strongest supporters of the Middle East Peace Process. I am very conscious also of the active support of those governments for the RWG, paralleling their support for UNRWA. Indeed this has been the foundation of the consensus that has enabled us to move forward in the Refugee Working Group.

As most of you know, the Refugee Working Group, like the other Working Groups in the Multilateral Process, was set up to complement the bilateral negotiations and to address broad regional issues whose solutions require coordinated actions and the support of the international community. We do this by improving the current living conditions of refugees and displaced persons without prejudice to their rights and future status; easing and extending access to family reunification; and supporting the process of achieving a viable and comprehensive solution to the refugee issue.

Since the meeting of UNRWA donors and host governments here last year, the RWG has held an important and successful plenary meeting last December in Geneva. It was a constructive and productive meeting, which enabled us to take stock of developments since the preceding meeting, to establish a wide measure of agreement among the parties, and to plan future activities for the RWG . I think it is clear that the RWG has played an important role in establishing a greater level of confidence among the parties who have participated in the bilateral negotiations. This has led to a growing recognition of the real possibility of us working together to identify win-win activities which benefit everyone. We are now on the road to developing one such initiative, about which I will speak a little later.

Since the early meetings of the Refugee Working Group, we have welcomed the presence of UNRWA at our deliberations. At the last meeting, the RWG expressed strong support for UNRWA and for its invaluable work in delivering assistance to refugee communities. Given the evolving situation, the group also stressed the importance of ensuring adequate future funding for UNRWA, and drew attention to the impact this shortfall could have on vulnerable refugee populations.

While the RWG is not a pledging forum, its meetings have served as a focus for the mobilisation of support for UNRWA projects, as well as for other support to Palestinians. In this work the countries which have served as "Shepherds" in the various themes deserve special gratitude: Significant support has been mobilized for UNRWA projects in the areas of Social and Economic Infrastructure, for example, a theme shepherded by the European Union, and in the theme of Public Health, for which Italy serves as our "shepherd". Likewise important projects have been contributed in the themes of Child Welfare, led by Sweden, and Human Resource Development, Job Creation and Vocational Training, led by the USA. Norway has been particularly active in the theme of "Data bases" while France has led the difficult and sensitive theme of Family Re-unification.

At the VIIIth Plenary meeting of the group in last December, we decided to explore a possible new direction for the work of the Group. Several members highlighted the importance of focused assistance to the Palestinian authority in the area of adaptation of Palestinian refugees and returnees. The Plenary mandated an intersessional meeting on "Rehabilitation and Adaptation of Refugees in the West Bank and Gaza, without prejudicing their rights, as well as project co-ordination", which Italy served to host.

How we will pursue this concept of Adaptation is not yet well defined. As you are all aware, many activities in the peace process have been somewhat delayed by the tragedies that have beset the region. However, I am happy to inform you that, like the other Working Groups, the RWG has resumed its activities. In that regard, the shepherds and other countries most directly involved in the RWG will be having a coordination meeting in the near future to establish dates for the various outstanding intersessional activities. We hope that at the coordination meeting we will also be able to obtain a clearer indication from the most affected parties of how the concept of adaptation can be dealt with at our subsequent intersessional devoted to that subject. We hope that UNRWA will play a role in that intersessional.

I am hopeful that in the future the RWG will be able to identify and develop other areas in which it can play a role in developing win-win activities. Our initiative with respect to Adaptation recognizes that the region is in transition. The situation is an evolving one. UNRWA and the RWG both have a role to play. The RWG has not expressed its own view on the question of the future of UNRWA per se, but it has stressed the importance of co-ordination amongst donors, the Palestinian Authority, Host Governments, and UNRWA. As gavel I would like to emphasize the importance of careful preparation and co-ordination, and gradual implementation so as to avoid further disruption and dislocation to the lives of refugees within the West Bank and Gaza. I also think I should stress the emerging recognition that UNRWA will have to evolve at different speeds in different fields. in keeping with the pace of progress in the peace negotiations

Another activity which the Refugee Working Group agreed upon at its last meeting was for international missions to be led by myself, as gavel, to Jordan, the West Bank and Gaza, and Lebanon.

The mission to Jordan will in fact take place next week. With the support and agreement of the Government of Jordan and of UNRWA an international delegation composed of some members of the RWG will visit a number of camps here in Jordan, to consult with refugees in those camps, and meet with the Jordanian government. This mission has as its purpose to identify the most appropriate ways for the RWG to assist in addressing the present and future problems respecting the refugees. It is important to us that we listen to the views of the refugees themselves in this process. Through this mission, we will be demonstrating the willingness of the RWG to seek the views of the residents of the camps about their future and to listen to what is said. An important element of this visit will also be our meetings with the Jordanian government where we will seek its views on the prospects for future RWG action respecting the Refugees.

Mr. Commissioner General, Your excellencies, ladies and Gentlemen.

Although so far I have talked mostly about the new initiative respecting the West Bank and Gaza, and our involvement with Jordan, I would not want anyone to think that this represented any lessening or diminution of our interest respecting the situation of the refugees in Lebanon and Syria. As you know, neither of those governments is participating in the work of the Group at the present time. At the last meeting, as at previous meetings, the group regretted the absence of Syria and Lebanon and reiterated its hope that progress in the bilateral track of the Middle East Peace Process would lead to their early participation, particularly in light of their important refugee communities. The group also reiterated its commitment to maintaining a dialogue with the governments of Syria and Lebanon and with the Palestinian refugee communities in those countries.

The group stressed how important it was that the Palestinian communities in those two countries should see tangible proof that their situation was being addressed by the international community. It emphasized in particular the need for the improvement of the situation of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.

After the meeting in December I visited Syria and Lebanon to meet with government representatives and to visit refugee camps. I want to convey to you that I was particularly concerned about the situation of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, both with respect to their humanitarian and economic circumstances and with respect to their civil situation. In meetings which I held with residents of the camps they called for an increase in UNRWA services, to levels which certainly could not be supported by UNRWA without significant new resources. They also underlined their limited access to the employment market, by comparison not just with Lebanese citizens but with other foreign workers. At the time, I relayed these concerns to the Lebanese government. I hope that the Lebanese government will find a way to alleviate the situation of the Palestinian refugees, despite the many burdens hardships imposed upon it and on the Lebanese people by recent events. It is the intention of the RWG to remain engaged, without any hidden agendas and without prejudging the outcome of the bilateral negotiations. It is the desire of the members of the RWG to be supportive and helpful to the Lebanese authorities, as well as to the Palestinian refugees, in finding ways of improving the humanitarian situation, as well as in addressing the underlying problems.

In Geneva it was agreed that the working group should continue to give priority to the situation of the Palestinians in Lebanon and to explore ways, through UNRWA, the Shepherds or other channels, to ensure the delivery of assistance and assure the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon of the group's continued concern. We in the RWG continue to speak on their behalf and to make them a priority target in resource allocation. We see UNRWA as a staunch ally in this regard and I would like to pay tribute to the outstanding efforts of UNRWA personnel in Lebanon.

Mr Commissioner General, Ladies and Gentlemen

In closing, I would like to reiterate that UNRWA and the Refugee Working Group have benefited in a number of ways from the spirit of close cooperation which has characterized our working relationship, I do not think that we have yet realized the full potential of that cooperation. The Refugee Working Group has looked to UNRWA for the full or partial implementation of the majority of the 136 projects which RWG member countries have announced over the eight plenary meetings of the Working Group. As for the process of identifying priorities and developing policy, there has in fact been a great deal of cross-fertilization, to the benefit of both the Agency and the Working Group.

Many of the same governments that participate in the RWG are also the major donors or host countries of UNRWA. As we move towards the realization of a comprehensive peace in this region, we must, and I am sure we will continue to work together.

En français

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