Geneva- The Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor published a report today detailing the series of measures to reduce relief services and staff by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), investigating the resulting catastrophic impact on Palestinian refugees residing in the agency’s five fields of operations.
The reduction of UNRWA services means depriving more than five million and 800,000 Palestinian refugees of basic services such as education and healthcare. It also means causing a closure of 702 UNRWA schools, depriving more than 500,000 refugee students of access to education and the collective layoff of some 30,000 of the Agency’s staff members, furthering the precarious humanitarian and social situation.
Pierre Krähenbühl, UNRWA's Commissioner-General, promised that his agency will continue to provide its services to Palestinian refugees, despite the fact that the financial crisis facing the agency as a result of huge US funding cuts and the failure of the international community to take concrete steps to support the agency has started to take its toll.
UNRWA has already started taking effective steps reducing its services provided to refugees and downsizing the organization, according to Euro-Med Monitor’s team, a step that is likely to be followed by others leading to the termination of the agency's work, which Israel has repeatedly called for.
The UNRWA administration in the Palestinian territories, providing services to some 2.5 million refugees, has notified dozens of employees, including 97 engineers from the Gaza Strip alone, of its intention to change their contracts into ‘daily-labor’ contracts, a move that could be followed by the termination of their employment contracts.
Amjad al-Rifi, an UNRWA staff member in the Gaza Strip, said in an interview with the Euro-Med’s team: “The UNRWA administration informed me and 96 of my colleagues that it does not intend to renew our contracts even though we have been holding positions for seven years now, as a result of the agency’s financial crisis”.
The report also reviewed testimonies of Palestinian staff and refugees in Jordan, who said that UNRWA had stopped all daily-labor contracts at UNRWA’s health centers and schools, terminating the employment of 100 day-workers in the health and education sectors. It has also suspended the financial provision allocated for any new services or activities, in addition to periodically-held workshops and training sessions.
In Lebanon, the report noted, UNRWA has taken similar steps to reduce its services, which benefit about half a million refugees in the country. It has forced 105 teachers into retirement before the end of their contracts, and has not announced any new vacancies, in addition to terminating contracts of daily-labor teachers.
Euro-Med Monitor documented in the report UNRWA’s reduction of the amount of fuel sent to its schools in Lebanon, as well as the termination of leases for buildings used as educational institutions. This means that many schools could be shut down, which would deprive more than 37,000 registered Palestinian refugees in Lebanon of their right to education.
Furthermore, the report monitored the reduction of the budget allocated to the health care program in Lebanon and the termination of contracts of a number of doctors, which could result in shutting down 27 UNRWA medical clinics providing their medical services to refugees.
In Syria, the report indicated that there used to be more than 600,000 Palestinian refugees in Syria, including 480,000 people who are still living there under difficult living conditions following seven years of conflict, warning that their tragic situation cannot bear any reduction in UNRWA’s basic services. Ninety-five percent of them are food insecure, and 93% are classified as ‘vulnerable’ or ‘too vulnerable’. Unemployment rates among Palestinian refugees in Syria have already reached 52.2%.
Euro-Med Monitor concluded by warning that the termination of UNRWA services does not only affect relief services given to Palestinian refugees, but also constitutes an impediment to their right of return.
The agency's very existence since establishment has been tied to the provision of services to the Palestinian refugees until a fair solution to their cause has been reached in accordance with General Assembly Resolution 194, which states the right of the Palestinian people to return to the towns and villages from which they were forced out as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war and the establishment of the State of Israel.
The presence of UNRWA means the continued treatment and recognition of these Palestinians as refugees, not residents of the new countries/towns they settled in following their displacement.
The Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor calls on the international community to protect UNRWA and provide legal, financial and also moral support to ensure its continuation by allocating a fixed budget within the United Nations budget rather than merely relying on voluntary contributions from Member States.
Euro-Med Monitor also calls on international institutions, organizations and bodies to unite their efforts to support UNRWA and to challenge this funding reduction, which amounts to evasion of responsibility.