Miseries pile up for West Bank refugees as UNRWA workers’ strike continues

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Palestinian refugee camps in the West Bank face a summer littered with waste due to an ongoing strike, sparking fears about disease outbreaks.

Piles of garbage have accumulated as more than 3,600 UN Relief and Work Agency workers have been on strike since Feb. 20.

Camp residents, who number about 960,000, continue to complain about their dire living conditions, which has also affected healthcare provision and impacted the education of 50,000 students.

The UNRWA claims that it does not have enough funds to raise the salaries of its workers and meet their demands.

The lack of garbage collection, combined with the halting of healthcare services, could lead to an environmental and health disaster with summer approaching, locals fear.

Youssef Baraka, from the Jalazoun refugee camp near Ramallah, said: “The refugee always pays the bill … and we live in difficult conditions due to the continuation of the strike.

“Our children are without education, and our patients are without treatment.”

He said that individual efforts were being made to help patients with treatment and provide medical supplies, and that residents were trying to rid camps of garbage themselves where possible.

Taysir Nasrallah, from the Balata refugee camp in Nablus, in the northern West Bank, said that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had set up a committee to meet with the UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini to find a quick solution to the crisis.

“The UNRWA administration requires urgent intervention to resolve the dispute with the staff and restore life to normal in the camps,” he said.

The UNRWA was set up in 1949 by the UN General Assembly to assist and protect Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Walid Masharqa, from the Jenin camp, said rubbish was piling up and sewage was seeping into the streets, while many basic medicines for chronic diseases are not currently available to residents.

“What is the fault of the Palestinian refugee, in the existence of wars and other humanitarian disasters in the world, for UNRWA to spoof its services to the Palestinian refugees?” Masharqa said.

The Palestinian Authority is not allowed to provide services to refugees in the camps, he added.

Adnan Abu Hasna, a spokesman for the UNRWA in the Middle East, said that talks were continuing with the PA and the Palestine Liberation Organization to solve the strike problem.

Abu Hasna expects all parties to reach a solution soon.

He said that the UNRWA had approved an allowance of $268 for 300 of its employees in East Jerusalem due to its high prices, and employees in the West Bank were demanding the same.

But he said the UNRWA budget was unable bear the additional cost, as its funds have an annual deficit of $70 million.

Abu Hasna referred to the tremendous Saudi support for UNRWA, as it funded it for over 10 years with $1 billion, built entire cities and neighbourhoods and dozens of schools in the Gaza Strip, and saved UNRWA several times from collapse.

“King Salman personally established support for UNRWA since he was the governor of the Riyadh region and president of the Association for the Support of the Palestinian People, and the position of Saudi Arabia in strong support for UNRWA is considered a motivating factor for other countries to support UNRWA,” Abu Hasna said.

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