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Unrwa Financial Situation Seen ‘precarious,’ Chief Says Service Cut Would Hurt Peace

The Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) warned today that UNRWA’s financial situation is “precarious” and that the outlook for its future was “even more alarming.” The official, Laurence Michelmore, told the General Assembly in his annual report that unless UNRWA received additional contributions amounting to 10 percent of its prospective income for the current year, a reduction in services to the refugee population would be inescapable. Mr. Michelmore stated that such a reduction would result in “human hardship and suffering and the likelihood that the efforts” of Middle East peace envoy Dr. Gunnar V. Jarring “will be jeopardized.”

He said that if the Assembly should extend UNRWA’s mandate beyond June 30, 1969, the situation of the refugees would require the agency not only to maintain but also to expand its health and education services. He said it would do so to the extent that funds made it possible. Mr. Michelmore estimated that UNRWA would need $42.5 million in 1969 to carry on present programs but estimated that income was not expected to exceed $37.6 million, leaving a prospective deficit of $4.9 million.

His report covered the period of July 1, 1967 to June 30, 1968 and accounts for UNRWA’s activities and measures taken to overcome operational difficulties arising from the Six-Day War. He said that as a result of the efforts of various governments, inter-governmental organizations and voluntary agencies, the “immediate and essential physical needs” of the thousands of persons displaced by the June, 1967 war and its aftermath had been largely met. Mr. Michelmore said that about 175,000 Arabs became refugees for a second time and that there were some 350,000 newly displaced from occupied areas. He feared that the situation of the DP’s and others “is likely to worsen rather than improve” – this because “interest and aid would almost inevitably begin to dwindle with the passage of time.”

MICHELMORE SAYS PERMANENT FACILITIES SHOULD BE USED

The UN official said that UNRWA’s capacity to help was diminished by the fact that some of its best camps, schools, clinics and other facilities stood idle in the West Bank town of Jericho, while the one-time inhabitants eked out a bare subsistence in tent camps or other interim accommodations in Jordan. UNRWA had been prepared – and was still prepared – to improve conditions in the emergency tent camps, Mr. Michelmore said, but added that there was a striking incongruity between having to improvise and to expend limited resources while permanent camps and facilities lay idle on the West Bank.

He said that UNRWA’s capacity to help would be greater if, in accordance with a Security Council resolution that the Assembly endorsed the inhabitants who fled were allowed to return to places they lived in before the hostilities and where UNRWA’s installations and facilities already existed. Mr. Michelmore said that whatever progress might be achieved by Dr. Jarring, it was “more likely” that an extension of UNRWA’s mandate beyond the present limit of June 30, 1969 would be essential. The most urgent task confronting UNRWA, he said, was the provision of temporary shelter and essential services for Palestine refugees uprooted from areas of Syria that were occupied by Israel. The Commissioner-General put their number at 17,500. He said that an estimated 100,000 Syrian displaced persons were being cared for by the Damascus Government.

Mr. Michelmore said that the greatest demand for UNRWA services during the year came from Jordan where the number of Palestinian refugees increased to 455,500 plus some 38,500 from Gaza. In addition to these, the Jordan Government also registered some 246,000 persons displaced from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, he said. In the Gaza Strip itself, the report said, the aftermath of the June, 1967 hostilities was “painful and prolonged” and was further affected by a succession of incidents, detentions, curfews, interrogations and in some instances demolition of houses. The report observed that in addition, economic activity, always precariously based in Gaza, had slumped and the demand for the agency’s services, particularly supplementary feeding, had increased.

Mr. Michelmore said that in general, cooperation between UNRWA and local authorities had been good. He said consultations had been held with the Israel Government to reconcile UNRWA statistics with those produced by the Israeli census. He said the agency’s current estimate of the number of refugees remaining on the West Bank is 245,000 of whom 140,000 are ration recipients.

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