UNRWA announces service cuts for refugees to take effect in December, workers stage shutdown in protest

Published November 20th, 2013 - 07:32 GMT
UNRWA runs many of the schools in the Palestinian territories as well as in bordering countries such as Jordan (Courtesy of Nuqudy)
UNRWA runs many of the schools in the Palestinian territories as well as in bordering countries such as Jordan (Courtesy of Nuqudy)

The popular service committees of Palestinian refugee camps in the northern West Bank will shut down all UNRWA offices and programs, except clinics and schools, Wednesday and Thursday.

In a joint statement, the committees said the move was part of ongoing protests against "UNRWA's systematic reductions" in services provided to Palestinian refugees in the region.

The decision came following a meeting Tuesday at the headquarters of the refugees' affairs department in Nablus in the northern West Bank. Representatives of the services committees and northern West Bank districts attended the meeting.

The participants agreed that protests for next week would be determined after a meeting scheduled for Thursday in Ramallah with the director of UNRWA operation in the West Bank.

The committees will decide whether to carry out further protests and when depending on the outcome of the meeting.

Balata refugee camp in Nablus is the largest camp in the occupied West Bank, with over 23,000 registered residents who are originally from 60 villages and the cities of Lydda, Jaffa and Ramleh.

The West Bank is home to 771,000 registered refugees, around a quarter of whom live in 19 camps, according to UNRWA.

One of the UN's oldest agencies, UNRWA faces a $36 million deficit.

"UNRWA will be unable to adequately fund its core services -- especially in education, health and poverty mitigation -- and will be unable to pay December salaries of its 30,000 teachers, medical personnel and social workers," under secretary general Jeffrey Feltman told the Security Council.

The agency was set up in 1950 to help Palestinian refugees who lost their homes because of the 1948 Middle East conflict. It estimates that it now helps about 5 million people.

The United States and European Union have traditionally been UNRWA's biggest donors to its two year budget of more than $1.2 billion.

The agency also faces a crisis in Gaza, after Israeli authorities discovered a tunnel from the besieged strip into Israel in October.

Israel suspended the entry of all construction materials into Gaza and since then 19 out of 20 UNRWA construction projects in the territory have been halted.

Feltman said the halt of the building work had "put thousands of people out of work" and called on Israel to reconsider its move.

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