August 17, 2015
Hundreds rally over slashing of services to Palestinians, with severe funding shortage likely to delay schooling.
Hundreds of employees with the UN body assisting Palestinian refugees have protested in the Gaza Strip over what they describe as the agency’s slashing of the vital services it provides to Palestinians, especially schooling.
The UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) had warned that schooling for half a million Palestinian students across the Middle East due to start at the end of August could be delayed due to a severe funding shortage.
Protesters on Monday held banners that read “education is a red line” and “I deserve to live in dignity”.
UNRWA funds crisis worries Palestinian refugees
In a speech at the protest, Suhail Hindi, the chairman of the union of Arab employees at the UNRWA in Gaza, said: “The UNRWA decision to reduce its services to Palestinian refugees is unacceptable”.
Hindi said the school delays would have a “catastrophic impact” and that education and heathcare should remain the agency’s priorities.
UNRWA, which began its operations in 1950, provides assistance and protection for about five million registered Palestine refugees in Gaza, the occupied West Bank and Jordan, as well as in Lebanon and Syria.
The agency announced earlier in August that it had funding only until the end of this month, when the school year was due to start in the Palestinian territories and Jordan.
The agency requires $100m to begin the 2015-2016 academic year in some 700 UN-run schools for half a million students across the Middle East.
More than a $1bn had been pledged by governments by the end of 2014, and the UNRWA urged donors, many of whom have still not fulfilled their commitments, to act immediately.
Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, called on all donors to urgently ensure adequate and sustainable financing for vital services as soon as possible.
The agency also said it only had enough money to maintain its services to protect public health – including immunisations for children, primary healthcare, sanitation and some emergency programmes – through to the end of 2015.