Gaza: The UN agency for Palestinian refugees on Tuesday said it has evacuated international staff members out of the Gaza Strip following mounting protests by employees upset over layoffs and cutbacks. The UN Relief and Works Agency’s operations director, Matthias Schmale, said that nine international personnel occupying “non-essential jobs” were being temporarily moved to occupied Jerusalem.
UNRWA is grappling with a severe financial crisis after the US administration cut $300 million in planned 2018 funding.
The agency’s operations were largely paralysed in the impoverished and blockaded Palestinian enclave, where its schools, health care centres and food distribution offices play an important role.
UNRWA runs more than 270 schools with some 280,000 students in the strip. The agency fired 113 Gaza staff on its emergency programme and turned hundreds of positions into part-time jobs, triggering a series of protests and strikes.
Even before the strike, laid-off employees had been preventing international and local staff from accessing UNRWA’s headquarters in Gaza City.
A source with knowledge of the situation said six foreign staffers remained out of the 19 who are usually present.
Amir Al Mashal, head of the UNRWA employees union in Gaza, pledged “an intensification of union actions” in the coming weeks.
Adnan Abu Hasna, an UNRWA spokesman in Gaza, called on the union to “return to the negotiating table immediately.”
A Hamas official said on condition of anonymity yesterday that “no harm has been done to any Arab or foreign staff,” while adding that the Islamist movement supports the employees’ demands.
“The agency’s crisis has been invented for political reasons,” he said. “No one can take way refugees’ right of return.”
Gaza’s economy has been ravaged by a blockade imposed by the Israeli occupation regime following the Hamas’s takeover of the territory in 2007. Jobs are extremely hard to come by, with the unemployment rate now over 50 per cent, according to the World Bank.
Schmale, who remains in Gaza, said the management “can’t function properly” under the conditions.
UNRWA was established seven decades ago to provide services to 700,000 Palestinians who fled or were forced from their homes in the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s creation.
Today, it serves 5 million refugees and their descendants, including 1.3 million in Gaza alone.
Created in 1949, UNRWA supplies aid to more than three million of the five million eligible Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the Palestinian territories.
Around 13,000 people work for UNRWA in Gaza, where more than two-thirds of the roughly two million residents are eligible for aid.
Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza have fought three wars since 2008.