EU: Time for refugees to return home

EU Representative to the Palestinian territories Berger and UNRWA Commissioner-General Grandi arrive at a signing ceremony for a large donation to UNRWA, in the West Bank village of Al-Walaja on March 21, 2011. (MaanImages/Mimmi Nietula)

Updated March 21, 2011

WALAJA, Bethlehem (Ma’an) – The EU Representative to the Palestinian territories said Monday he hoped for “all the refugees to go home” as soon as possible, during a visit to West Bank village Al-Walaja.

Speaking at a school run by the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), Representative Christian Berger announced a €40 million European Union contribution to the organization.

The donation to UNRWA’s core activities will help reduce threats to refugees’ livelihoods and loss of land, he explained, stressing that these vulnerabilities “require the help of the international community.”

“We want UNRWA to go away as soon as possible,” Berger said.

The agency was established in the aftermath of the 1948 creation of the state of Israel and, funded mostly by voluntary member state contributions, currently provides assistance to around 4.8 million Palestinian refugees across the region.

Established as a temporary body, as the lack of resolution to the situation of Palestinian refugees continues, the UN General Assembly has repeatedly renewed UNRWA’s mandate.

Almost 100 percent of Al-Walaja’s current residents were displaced in 1948. The village was cut down to about 30 percent of its former size, with limited numbers later re-settling the village, while most remain disbursed in the region’s refugee camps.

In Al-Walaja, UNRWA supports a school and health facilities, and more recently a job creation program, giving work to the members of some 91 families. In the works for 2012 are a water recycling and gray-water program, which will help farmers with little access to water sustain their crops.

Located just 10 km south of Jerusalem, Israel’s separation wall is being constructed on village lands, and the planned route threatens to entirely surround the village and cut off a further half of its land, rendering homes and farm lands inaccessible.

“The people of Al-Walaja are refugees. They were forced to leave their original village, which is not far from here. The people of Al-Walaja rebuilt their village here, with the help of UNRWA, which helped to alleviate a measure of their suffering,” head of the village council Saleh Khalifeh told those assembled for the announcement.

“You know better than I that the refugees are the victims of a very long injustice,” UNRWA Commissioner-General Fillipo Grandi told the villagers, “an injustice that 62 years later has yet to be addressed.”

Refugees “must be given opportunities during this time of political stagnation,” he said.

Referring to current attention by the ‘Arab street’ to the plight of Palestinian refugees, Grandi called on the international community to “reflect on the plight of the villagers of Al Walaja and the Palestinians as a whole, and learn salutary lessons about the urgent need to address their historic grievances.”


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