UNRWA Commissioner-General Filippo Grandi yesterday welcomed a visiting delegation from the Saudi Fund to Rafah, Gaza, to celebrate the building of thousands of Saudi-funded homes for Palestine refugees displaced by the 2008-2009 conflict. The full text of his speech follows.
It gives me great pleasure to welcome here today Engineer Yousef Al- Bassam and the Saudi Fund delegation.
As we have heard, we have waited for this event for eight years. Eight years is the period of time since the Rafah housing project was first agreed between UNRWA and the Saudi Fund. That period has included five years during which construction was stopped because of the Israeli blockade. And now the project is coming to life.
The Rafah project is important in itself, of course, and especially for the refugee community in Rafah and for all Palestine refugees in Gaza. After the Nahr El Bared project in Lebanon it is the largest housing project our agency has ever undertaken.
The Rafah project has also been the foundation stone of much greater cooperation between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and UNRWA, including support for the rebuilding of Nahr El Bared in Lebanon, which I just mentioned.
This comprehensive support has been provided in accordance with the wise and generous directives of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. Under the Custodian’s guidance Saudi Arabia emerged in 2012 as one of the Agency’s three largest donors, with the European Union and the United States.
This magnificent support has been extended across the whole range of UNRWA’s activities in benefit of Palestinian refugees, in Gaza and elsewhere.
And not only through housing, but also through projects to develop education and healthcare, which are UNRWA’s primary and core responsibilities.
In addition to this direct support, the Kingdom, working through the Saudi Fund and the Islamic Development Bank, has been crucial in implementing the Gulf Cooperation Council Gaza Reconstruction Fund.
Thousands of refugees have had their houses rebuilt or repaired under this huge programme, the biggest international programme of support for Gaza and one which has been on-going since 2009. I am proud and delighted that UNRWA is one of the programme's partners.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has also spread its generosity in the area of relief. The Saudi Campaign for the People of Gaza has sent large amounts of food and medicines to Gaza, in addition to subsidies for fuel.
We look forward now to expanding our cooperation with the Kingdom. In a first phase we are signing today a new agreement providing for a further expansion of the Rafah housing project and a programme of housing units reconstruction and repair for Palestine refugees all over the Gaza strip.
I would like to pay tribute to our own engineers and administrators in the Gaza office who over a number of years have designed and built this hugely impressive Rafah project, while helping the agency to develop a strong relationship of trust with the Saudi Fund. This is a tremendous achievement.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has stood with the people of Gaza through very difficult times in recent years. It has never hesitated. The conflict last November caused more suffering and damage and reminded us of how fragile are the moments of calm enjoyed by Gaza. It also reminded us that the illegal blockade of Gaza must come to a complete end, and restrictions on access, fishing and agriculture be lifted, before Gaza can move from humanitarian assistance to what is really needed - long-term development. The international community, including states in this region, where so many important changes are occurring, must re-engage itself in peace, including a better future for the people of Gaza. Whether in good times or bad, however, I am sure the people can count on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Many thanks to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, to the Saudi Fund for Development, to you personally, Engineer Yousef Al-Bassam, and your colleagues and friends, on behalf of UNRWA and all Palestine refugees.