Church agencies lobby Bush and UN on humanitarian crisis

By agency reporter
January 16, 2009

Humanitarian agency Church World Service and a diverse group of international human rights and refugee protection organizations have called on President Bush and other US leaders, the United Nations, and Israeli and Egyptian ambassadors to uphold the rights of the 1.5 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip to seek protection.

The advocacy group’s letter said, “It is incumbent upon Israel and Egypt to immediately open their borders and provide full rights and protection to [Gazan] civilians under international law.”

Two-thirds of Gazans are refugees. Both Israel and Egypt are signatories to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.

The letter was signed by the Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee, Amnesty International-USA, the Arab American and Chaldean Council, the Immigration and Refugee Program of Church World Service, the Dominican Leadership Conference, the Episcopal Church, Kurdish Human Rights Watch, Refugees International, and the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants.

In addition to President Bush, the statement was sent to representatives of the US Department of State Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration; the US Citizenship and Immigration Services Refugee Affairs Division; the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, including Senate Committee Chairman and Vice President-elect Joseph Biden. It was also sent to Michel Gabaudan, Regional Director, United Nations High Commission for Refugees; Egyptian Ambassador to the United States Sameh Shoukry; and Sallai Meridor, Israeli Ambassador to the US.

Echoing the call of UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres, the letter also called for immediate expansion of aid delivery channels, saying, “It is absolutely imperative that the immediate delivery of humanitarian assistance to the civilian victims of this conflict be facilitated through Egypt and Israel.

Church World Service and its partners in the region report that professional medical volunteers from various countries are still being denied entry to help treat injured civilians. The advocacy group¹s letter asks for immediate deployment of medical personnel into Gaza.

On 13 January 2009, three CWS-supported truckloads of critically needed food and medical supplies, including milk and energy biscuits for children, reached two clinics in Gaza. A third clinic that served children of the poorest in Gaza City was completely destroyed in an Israeli airstrike over the weekend.

Global relief and development agency CWS is supporting emergency relief and trauma care for those in Gaza affected by the violence and has launched a US fundraising campaign for the Gaza humanitarian crisis.

The agency is further calling its nationwide grassroots Speak Out advocacy Network to action, asking people to immediately press their lawmakers in Washington to urge US diplomatic action to end the fighting in Gaza and renew a meaningful process toward peace with justice for Palestinians and Israelis.

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