Earlier this month, the United Nations Relief and Works agency for Palestinian refugees in the near-east (UNRWA) warned that it’d have no choice but to make deep cuts to its programs, due to a funding freeze enacted by the United States Government. Last week, in light of a 217 million dollar funding shortfall, UNRWA lowered the boom: employees for a number of vital programs, including housing assistance, medical and mental health support, education and employment programs have either been given drastic pay cuts or told that they no longer have jobs. According to The Washington Post, UNRWA dismissed 154 of its employees, 125 of which are located in Gaza, and downgraded another 580 to contract workers. The head of UNRWA’s Palestinian employees union, Amir al-Miss’hal stated that in addition to this, UNRWA has also canceled an additional 1,000 jobs by ordering a hiring freeze of employees destined to fill in for UNRWA workers approaching retirement.
Unsurprisingly, shit is now going down: hundreds of UNRWA declared a sit-in, this past Monday, with threats from the UNRWA employee’s union of a strike that could throw Gaza into chaos. One UNRWA was so unhinged by losing his to job that he attempted to set himself on fire, this past Wednesday.
From The Washington Post:
Earlier this year, the U.S. cut around $300 million in funding to UNRWA, resulting in a $217 million budget shortfall. U.N. officials say the cuts are “the largest ever reduction in funding UNRWA has faced.”
Of the five areas in which the agency operates, Gaza is the most vulnerable given its dire living conditions and devastated economy after more than a decade under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade. More than two-thirds of Gaza’s population of 2 million are refugees or their descendants.
Chris Gunness, an UNRWA spokesman, said the organization “is prioritizing food security support to the most vulnerable refugees by continuing its emergency food program to nearly 1 million refugees” in Gaza.
The 300 million dollars that the United States has decided to withhold from United Nations programming amounts to roughly 30% of UNRWA’s annual budget. While food aid is still flowing to the Palestinians, for the time being, there’s no telling how long the crisis will continue or what could happen as the ire of the UNRWA’s employee union continues to grow.
Image via Flickr, courtesy of sanjitbakshi