The delayed start of the 2015-16 academic year in the Gaza Strip has prompted a wave of anger amongst Palestinian refugees. The decision was taken by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) due to a major funding crisis. No date has been set for schools to open and teachers have been told to take unpaid leave.
Protesters believe that the move by UNRWA is just the beginning of the agency winding down all of its services, upon which refugees depend. They claim that the financial situation is being used as an excuse.
According to UNRWA media adviser Adnan Abu Hasna, no specific period has been set for the extended closure of the agency’s schools. No decision in this regard has been taken yet, he insisted.
Abu Hasna did not try to hide the seriousness of the organisation’s financial crisis. In previous statements he explained that UNRWA has taken many steps in order to ensure the continuation of the basic services it provides. “These include education, health and the environment,” he explained. “The budget deficit of the UN agency is around $101 million.” UNRWA depends entirely on voluntary donations from UN member states.
The Conference of the Union of Arab Workers warned that closing UNRWA schools would put 30,000 jobs at risk across its five areas of operation. The organisation called on donor countries to fulfil their responsibilities towards Palestinian refugees and threatened to take “unprecedented” action to defend and maintain the job security of the teachers involved. Any moves by the UN which put student literacy at risk will be challenged, the union stressed.
Images from MEMO photographer: Mohammad Asad.