The Vatican, March 17, 2018: His Holiness Pope Francis received UNRWA’s Commissioner-General, Pierre Krähenbühl, in a private audience. 

The dialogue focused on the plight of Palestine refugees in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. The Commissioner-General described the worrying lack of horizon, in particular for youth, and the need for the world to confirm that the rights of Palestine refugees and their future matter.

The Holy Father, who has visited a refugee camp in Bethlehem, expressed deep respect for the work and commitment of UNRWA. Mr. Krähenbühl presented a message from one of the Agency’s students, Majd, 14 years old, who wrote and sent a video message to Pope Francis, conveying the importance she attaches to her education and the fear of seeing her school close because of UNRWA’s dramatic funding crisis. The Pope expressed admiration for the courage of young refugee boys and girls.

“I was deeply honored and humbled by the opportunity to highlight the dedication and dignity of Palestine Refugee students during my meeting with Pope Francis”, said the Commisisoner-General, adding: “The risks of any interruption of education services were discussed and the need to respect the humanity and aspirations of UNRWA students”.

Mr. Krähenbühl also showed Pope Francis a poetry book belonging to an UNRWA student, Ru’a, and discovered in a damaged school during the 2014 Gaza conflict. One of the poems describes hope as a « friend that never abandons you, always comes back ». 

As the Agency’s pursues global efforts to overcome its unprecedented crisis, Pope Francis provided strong words of encouragement to UNRWA. He also expressed his genuine concern for the situation of Palestine refugees and his commitment to the search of a just and lasting peace based on the two state-solutions.

Background Information

UNRWA is confronted with an increased demand for services resulting from a growth in the number of registered Palestine refugees, the extent of their vulnerability and their deepening poverty. UNRWA is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions and financial support has been outpaced by the growth it needs. As a result, the UNRWA Programme Budget, which supports the delivery of core essential services, operates with a large shortfall. UNRWA encourages all Member States to work collectively to exert all possible efforts to fully fund the Agency’s Programme Budget. UNRWA emergency programmes and key projects, also operating with large shortfalls, are funded through separate funding portals.

UNRWA is a United Nations agency established by the General Assembly in 1949 and mandated to provide assistance and protection to some 5 million registered Palestine refugees. Its mission is to help Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank and the Gaza Strip achieve their full human development potential, pending a just and lasting solution to their plight. UNRWA services encompass education, health care, relief and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, protection and microfinance.