The plight of Palestinian refugees is at the heart of the Palestinian struggle, HE Dr Husam Zomlot told a conference on 30 November marking the 70th anniversary of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).
The conference, entitled ‘UNRWA at 70: Responding to Crises and Building a Just Future,’ was organised by the Palestinian Return Centre, a UK-based advocacy group which focuses on the Palestinian refugees’ internationally recognised legal right to return, in partnership with the Al Jazeera Center for Studies and the European Center for Palestine Studies.
Dr Zomlot was invited to address the opening session and told a distinguished audience of United Nations officials, UNRWA staffers, academics, international legal experts and Palestine activists that the process of forced displacement of Palestinians is ongoing.
He paid tribute to the work of UNRWA, an agency that was established in 1949 with an international mandate to to provide assistance and protection to Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
The agency also provides assistance in the fields of education, health care, social services, camp infrastructure and microfinance.
Dr Zomlot pointed out that Israeli plans to annex swathes of occupied territory was taking us away from a just resolution of the Palestinian cause, a resolution that must include the rights of refugees, including the right of return.
The conference was held to highlight the precarious situation of Palestinian refugees and to explore the most effective ways that UNRWA can continue to function in support of Palestinians and in the face of American and Israeli pressure seeking to end its mandate.
The event began with welcome speeches by Tarek Hamoud, the General Director of the Palestinian Return Centre, and Arafat Shoukri, a Senior Researcher with the Al Jazeera Centre for Studies. Delegates heard speeches from former UNRWA staff about the agency’s work, as well presentations examining the relationship between UNRWA and Palestinian refugees, the status of refugees in international law and the importance of Palestinian refugees receiving justice.