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The BRICS and UNRWA: a shared vision

By Filippo Grandi (Chinadaily.com.cn)

14:43, March 12, 2012

The last summit of the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) saw the unveiling of an impressive and compelling call to global humanitarian and development action. The final "BRICS" communiqué envisioned an alliance united by the "overarching common objective of a strong and shared desire for peace and security, contributing significantly to the development of humanity, establishing a more equitable and fair world".

Meeting under the banner of "A broad vision: a shared prosperity", the BRICS summiteers voiced their strong commitment to the United Nations, with the world body "playing a central role in dealing with global challenges and threats", so that nations could "achieve peace, stability, prosperity and progress, enjoying their due standing and dignity in the world, according to the legitimate aspirations of their peoples".

Fittingly, it was at that meeting almost exactly a year ago, that the BRICS formally admitted South Africa, a nation whose most modern incarnation was born on the struggle for justice, equality and inclusion for all its people.

Tellingly, the BRICS summiteers expressed their "deep concern for the turbulence in the Middle East" and significantly, as they met, the so called "Arab Spring" had already begun its course across the region.

Millions took to the streets, clamoring for political and economic inclusion, for social justice and an end to decades of poverty and inequality.

The coincidence of these two developments, the "Arab Spring" and the unveiling of the BRICS global charter, had a particular resonance for UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which has worked with some of the most disadvantaged communities in the Middle East for 63 years, delivering services to Palestine refugees and advocating for the full enjoyment of their rights.

Founded in 1949 and becoming operational on the ground in 1950, UNRWA has programmes in Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the West Bank, assisting almost five million Palestinian refugees -- those who fled or were forced to flee their homes as a result of the 1948-49 Arab-Israel conflict, and their descendants.

In the immediate aftermath of their flight, the refugees took shelter in tented cities, which today have morphed into impoverished shanties, many deprived of urban and human development. Most alarmingly, these are spaces deprived of hope, where economic vulnerability, social fragility and political marginalization are acutely felt.

However, our job is to provide humanitarian relief and human development opportunities, and it is the political players who must forge a lasting peace, including a just solution to the question of refugees.

So while we wait for a peaceful end of the refugees' plight, based on international law and UN resolutions, the UN General Assembly has mandated UNRWA to pursue its role -- a role that resonates so fittingly with that of the newly unveiled BRICS vision.

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