Gaza: "The only conflict in the world in which people are not even allowed to flee" - High Commissioner Guterres

Briefing Notes, 6 January 2009

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 6 January 2009, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

We have issued a statement by High Commissioner António Guterres calling for strict adherence to humanitarian principles in the ongoing conflict in Gaza, including respect for the universal right of those fleeing war to seek safety in other states.

Although there has been no large-scale movement out of Gaza because of the blockade, Mr. Guterres reminds neighbouring states of their responsibility to provide access to safety for civilians fleeing violence. He said those who are compelled to flee Gaza should be able to do so and to find safety and security in other countries according to international law, and he asks that all relevant borders and access routes be kept open and safe. Noting that right now, this is the only conflict in the world in which people are not even allowed to flee, he says Palestinians who may try to leave Gaza to escape the fighting should not be prevented from doing so.

In his statement, Mr. Guterres also expresses solidarity with UNHCR's sister organisation, the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which is in charge of providing support to Palestinians and is struggling to carry out its mission in Gaza's steadily worsening humanitarian environment. He says it is absolutely imperative that the immediate delivery of humanitarian assistance to the civilian victims of this conflict be facilitated, including access from Egypt and Israel.

UNHCR has provided some emergency assistance to Egypt's Red Crescent Society in case it is needed for the care of any Palestinians admitted to Egyptian territory and we stand ready to deploy an emergency team and equipment to the area as required.

The High Commissioner says he is gravely concerned over the conflict's heavy toll on civilians, including children, and expresses his profound shock and sadness at the suffering and loss of life. He joins Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in calling for an immediate halt to hostilities.

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