Students attending Jerusalem Basic Girls School. 2019. Credit :UNRWA
This week, as the Convention on the Right of the Child (CRC) turns 30, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) has called for increasing attention and assistance to children in conflict zones.
“The CRC’s promise to children is that they should live in safety, are protected from violence, discrimination and abuse, and that they enjoy economic, social and cultural rights”, UNRWA said in a statement.
“Many Palestine refugee children face considerable threats to their safety and wellbeing and are unable to fully enjoy their childhood or reach their full potential”, said Christian Saunders, Acting UNRWA Commissioner-General. “Sadly, for many Palestine refugee children, the global commitment to the upholding of their rights has a long way to go until it is realized.”
According to UNICEF data, an estimated 25 million girls and boys live in conflict situations in the Arab region today, which includes the Near East, where UNRWA is active.
“Unfortunately, despite achievements in the fields of health and education for children across the region, violence and conflict still mark the childhoods of many”, warned the refugee agency. “Children in Gaza born in 2009 will have experienced three wars and frequent episodes of military escalation; children born in Syria since 2011 will not know what it means to live without conflict; and children in the West Bank will only know a life under occupation.”
“In UNRWA, we work every day to ensure that children can live in dignity pending a just and lasting solution to their plight, whether it is through providing them with a good quality education, or access to health care, relief and social services or through our protection work. We have our part of the CRC promise to honor and we take this responsibility very seriously,” said Saunders.
UNRWA is a United Nations agency established by the General Assembly in 1949 and mandated to provide assistance and protection to some 5.4 million Palestine refugees registered with UNRWA across its five fields of operation. Its mission is to help Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip achieve their full human development potential, pending a just and lasting solution to their plight.
For the past 70 years, UNRWA has run program that have directly improved the wellbeing of many Palestine refugee children. However, the weight of conflict, occupation, the blockade and displacement is far too heavy to be defeated by the cash-stripped UN agency.