As UNRWA Turns 60, It Asks for More Funding for Palestinian Refugees

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Jordan's Queen Rania attend UNRWA ceremony in New York.

In marking its 60th anniversary Thursday, the cash-strapped United Nations aid agency for Palestinian refugees asked the world for more funding and a renewed push to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The ceremony, held on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, was attended by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Jordan's Queen Rania.

The UN Relief and Works Agency was founded in 1949 to help hundreds of thousands of Palestinians uprooted during Israel's War of Independence. Today, it runs clinics, schools and social services for some 4.6 million refugees and their descendants in camps in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

The agency's resources were particularly burdened by the Israel Defense Forces' 22-day offensive against Gaza's Hamas rulers last January. Since the Gaza war, UNRWA has expanded food distribution, and now provides services to nearly 1 million of the territory's 1.4 million residents.

"The Palestinians make up the world's largest refugee group, and their plight has gone on longer than any other," UNRWA Commissioner-General Karen Abu Zayd said at Thursday's ceremony.

She urged the international community to furnish the levels of financial and political support UNRWA requires to serve the Palestinian refugees better.

"UNRWA is faced by a serious deficit that threatens its ability to continue delivering services," she said.

Abu Zayd asked for greater efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and with that, the plight of the refugees. "The protracted exile of Palestine refugees and the dire conditions they endure, particularly in the occupied Palestinian territory, cannot be reconciled with state obligations under the UN charter," she said.

Queen Rania, the wife of Jordan's monarch, King Abdullah II, said she wished the agency was no longer necessary.

"I wished there was no anniversary to mark, she said. But you and I know the reality is very different. Theirs (the refugees') life is very different."

"Theirs' is a life interrupted, a life half lived. Hours wasted at checkpoints, another work day lost, another pay check canceled, worried about what the family will eat...praying for an aid parcel."