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Statement by H.E. Mohan Peiris, Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations at the General Assembly Fourth Committee

Friday, 03 November 2023
H.E. Mr. Mohan Pieris
New York

Statement by H.E. Mohan Peiris, Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations
at the General Assembly Fourth Committee (78th Session)
Friday, 3 November 2023

United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (item 49) Mr. Chair, Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates,The recent tragedy has presented significant challenges for Palestine refugees and underscores the critical situation facing UNRWA. Sri Lanka would like to extend its appreciation to you, as well as to all the dedicated UNRWA staff and management, for their unwavering efforts in maintaining operations and delivering essential services during these trying times. Sri Lanka pays tribute to the UNRWA staff who have paid the ultimate sacrifice in the current context.

In the absence of a political resolution, UNRWA plays a pivotal role in addressing the needs and upholding the rights of Palestine refugees. The agency's continued capacity to fulfill this role is of utmost importance, not only from a humanitarian standpoint but also for regional stability. Sri Lanka stands firmly in support of the forthcoming renewal of UNRWA's mandate this week.

UNRWA's mandate remains highly relevant in addressing the protracted Palestinian refugee crisis, offering critical humanitarian assistance, education, healthcare, and essential services to vulnerable populations. The agency's tireless efforts are crucial not only for the well-being of Palestinian refugees but also for regional stability, serving as a beacon of hope for millions living in precarious conditions. In light of the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza, rallying support for UNRWA is of paramount importance. The ongoing hostilities and blockade have created a crisis where essential services, resources, and public health are deteriorating rapidly, necessitating an immediate humanitarian ceasefire and uninterrupted aid flow. The dedication of UNRWA staff under challenging circumstances underscores the agency's commitment to safeguarding civilians and UN premises. The urgency of the situation is emphasized by recent international support for a humanitarian truce, which must translate into concrete on-the-ground progress. UNRWA's role in protecting and assisting Gazan civilians is pivotal, and the resilience of its team in the face of adversity epitomizes the essence of humanity during dark times.

In this backdrop, it is crucial to provide immediate support for UNRWA. Urgent fuel deliveries are imperative, given the near-month-long fuel shortage's devastating impact on essential services, hospitals, and UNRWA's operations. A humanitarian ceasefire is long overdue to halt the loss of lives and further suffering. The commitment to extend this support beyond resolutions to tangible assistance is the need of the hour, and it underscores the global community's compassion and solidarity with the people of Gaza.

The challenges are daunting, but the determination to fulfill the humanitarian duty remains steadfast. Sri Lanka wishes to express its profound concern regarding the chronic budget deficit faced by UNRWA ,a shortfall that threatens its ability to meet the ever-growing needs and operational costs. We firmly believe that it is the shared responsibility of the General Assembly and the international community to step up and provide the essential support required to safeguard UNRWA&'s critical services. We must answer the call for increased funding, the prompt disbursement of contributions, and the flexibility to adapt to evolving requirements.

Mr. Chair

The funding challenges facing UNRWA have severe consequences, putting the salaries of staff and essential services like education and healthcare at risk. This appeal underscores the critical need for sustained funding to maintain UNRWA's services and calls on the international community to support this cause, ensuring the well-being of Palestinian refugees.

Sri Lanka commends UNRWA's strategies, including innovative initiatives like telemedicine, which deserve further exploration for their effectiveness and acceptability. The agency's efforts in mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS), particularly addressing the social determinants of mental health during the ongoing pandemic, are recognized.

Mr. Chair

Sri Lanka acknowledges the Palestinian refugee crisis, with 5.9 million officially registered with UNRWA today when compared to the 750,000 Palestine refugees in 1950. Since the tragic attacks on October 7 th, thousands of lives have been lost, including children, and an alarming number of injured personnel, including UNRWA staff members.

In conclusion, Sri Lanka reaffirms its unwavering support for renewing UNRWA's mandate and urges the international community to provide essential financial backing to address the agency's chronic budget deficit. It is crucial to ensure that UNRWA can sustain its vital work and safeguard the rights and well-being of Palestinian refugees. Turning our backs on these vulnerable populations is not an option, and collective efforts can positively impact their lives.

Thank you.