Dozens of Palestinian refugees protested on Monday at the gate of the UNRWA headquarters in the Gaza Strip demanding the resumption of its services and an increase, not a reduction, in the aid that it gives to needy families. The UN agency had announced previously that it was suspending all services temporarily and stopping aid to around 21,000 refugee families in Gaza; the financial resources saved will be used to provide 10,000 temporary employment opportunities instead.
The refugees, who were mainly from from Jabaliya refugee camp to the north of Gaza City called on UNRWA to increase its aid, not stop it altogether.
The protesters chanted slogans outside the agency’s HQ reminding it that its priority is to support refugees until they are able to return to their land.
The head of the refugees’ Popular Committee in Jabaliya, Abu-Fadi Shaqoura, said: “UNRWA decided to merge the lists of families who receive aid based on social disadvantages with those who need emergency assistance. This reduces the amount of food aid they receive and stops it altogether for many.”
According to Mr Shaqoura, the refugees have been protesting for around a month. “We have handed our demands over to the Director of Operations for UNRWA since the first day of the protests, but we have received no response.”
Even the “modest” assistance received from UNRWA is vital for most refugees. “What shall we do and how can we live after the three-month work programme is finished?” Asked one man.
UNRWA suffers from severe financial difficulties as its budget depends entirely on voluntary donations from the international community and other NGOs. Cuts to programmes and aid are almost inevitable at a time of a worldwide economic crisis.
The Agency suspended all of its services completely last week after protesters broke into its HQ compound in Gaza; it said that its staff were “endangered”. Work will remain suspended until the government can guarantee the safety of UNRWA employees. However, a spokesman said on Monday afternoon that a pledge of safety has been given by the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority in the Gaza Strip and work is expected to resume on Tuesday morning.