UNRWA school staff go on strike in Gaza
The UN agency only announced last week the school year would go ahead as scheduled. (AFP/File)
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Local staff at the UN agency for Palestinian refugees in Gaza on Monday went on strike as the first day of a new school year began, adding to a crisis in the agency as financial problems had threatened to delay the start of the school year.
Around 225,000 students were forced to return home as UNRWA employees announced the strike action.
“We didn’t want to suspend classes, but the administration of UNRWA pushed us to take that step,” secretary general of the union of UNRWA employees, Raafat Hamdouna, said.
The union had met with UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krahenbuhl on Sunday and said the "atmosphere wasn’t positive."
The union is protesting against overcrowding at UNRWA schools and unpaid vacations. At present, there are over 50 children in each classroom, with employees urging the agency to reduce the maximum capacity to 38.
Hamdouna said union members will protest in five locations across Gaza, including a sit-in strike inside UNRWA's Gaza City headquarters to be attended by 13,000 employees.
There are protests in the West Bank planned for Thursday, he added.
For Palestinian refugees, the start of the school year came as a relief after UNRWA warned for weeks that it would have to delay the school year if it was unable to cover a $101 million deficit.
The UN agency was only able to announce on Wednesday that the year would go ahead as scheduled, after it secured just short of $80 million in contributions against its deficit.
UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krahenbuhl affirmed the agency's commitment to its schools "because of how central education is to the identity and dignity of Palestine refugees."
Around 1.2 million Palestinian children returned to school Monday for the start of the new school year, the Palestinian Ministry of Education said.
The MoE said in a statement that there would be 700,000 students in the West Bank and 500,000 in the Gaza Strip this year.