Iconic image spotlighting plight of Palestine refugees, illuminates UN headquarters

4 December 2014 | Press Releases

New York, 3 December 2014 – To mark the climax of the International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, an iconic image from the newly digitized photo archives of the UN agency tasked with assisting Palestinian refugees throughout the Middle East was projected yesterday onto buildings in eight cities around the world, including the Organization’s iconic Headquarters complex in New York.

An iconic image from the UN Relief and Works Agency's (UNRWA) newly digitized photo archive projected on the UN Headquarters building in New York. December 2014 Photo: Kim Haughton

An iconic image from the UN Relief and Works Agency’s (UNRWA) newly digitized photo archive projected on the UN Headquarters building in New York. December 2014 Photo: Kim Haughton

The huge photograph, originally taken in 1983 and featuring a UN Relief and Works Agency in the Near East (UNRWA) school girl, was visible for six hours and was also displayed on buildings in Bangkok, Beirut, Dubai, Jakarta, Seville, Tokyo, Marrakesh, and Vienna as part of the agency’s Building Solidarity campaign, which seeks to highlight the unresolved political plight of Palestinian refugees.

Speaking in front of UN Headquarters, UNRWA’s Deputy Commissioner-General Margot Ellis stressed the importance of showing solidarity with the Palestinian people.

“UNRWA has been doing this for 65 years through the delivery of basic services such as education and health, which have successfully led to the human development of the Palestine refugee community,” she said, adding, “we also have extensive emergency programmes in all five areas of our operations, which include Jordan, Lebanon and the West Bank.”

She noted that five million people, many of whom were very poor, are still waiting for a resolution of their plight after six decades. Calling for “renewed political action in the peace process,” she underlined the importance of the Agency in providing human development, hope and prospects for a dignified future.

“Humanitarian action by UNRWA is vital though it is certainly not a substitute for full rights, employment and dignity without which refugees will remain in a state of extreme vulnerability,” she said.

Ms. Ellis was in New York for the annual UNRWA donor pledging conference and she underlined the need for sustained international support for UNRWA’s programmes, particularly in the context of the recent conflict in Gaza and the ongoing war in Syria entering its fourth year.

Despite such growing needs, as well as larger numbers of refugees and deepening poverty, financial support for UNRWA has not kept pace and the agency’s General Fund, which supports core activities and is 97 per cent reliant on voluntary contributions and has a current deficit of $56 million.

Through the Building Solidarity campaign, UNRWA has digitized more than 300,000 of its nearly half a million images, dating from as far back as 1948 and the original displacement of Palestinians. The archive has been recognized by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) with “Memory of the World” status and will be available on line to journalists, writers, scholars and anyone interested in the long and still unresolved question of Palestine refugees and the development of UNRWA’s services over six decades.