Agency chief warns of ‘disaster’ in Palestinian enclave due to funding shortfall
Dozens of angry employees of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency gathered on Tuesday outside UNRWA headquarters in the Gaza Strip, shouting and holding placards saying “The salaries of workers are a red line.”
On November 9, UNRWA decided to cut salaries by half for November and December. The move came after Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini warned of “the worst financial crisis” ever faced by the agency.
“Despite all of our efforts to raise the resources needed to keep our humanitarian and development programs running, it was with great regret that I informed our staff today that we don’t have sufficient funding at this stage to honor their salaries this month,” Lazzarini said last week.
UNRWA, which supports 5.7 million Palestinian refugees in the Middle East, says it needs $70 million to pay November and December salaries, and to continue education and health services amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The United States, which had been the agency’s largest donor, providing $300 million annually, cut all funding in September 2018.
The shortfall is affecting 28,000 staffers across the West Bank, east Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, Lebanon and Jordan.
“Through the end of this year, the agency needs $115 million to cover the financial deficit it suffers from, including $70 million for employees’ salaries,” Sami Mshasha, a West Bank-based spokesperson for the agency, said last Thursday.
Through the end of this year, the agency needs $115 million to cover the financial deficit it suffers from, including $70 million for employees’ salaries
According to Mshasha, Lazzarini promised to pay the second half of the November salaries by the middle of next month. However, the UN staff union responded by holding protests and declaring this coming Thursday a “Day of Rage” to begin at noon in all of five UNRWA areas of operation (the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan).
Ameer al-Meshal, the Gaza-based head of the UNRWA employees union, told The Media Line on Tuesday about further discussions.
“Tomorrow, there will be an assessment with the heads of the unions in order to issue a new statement and to define the upcoming activities in accordance with the concerned parties… bearing in mind the measures required against the outbreak of the pandemic,” he said.
“We have 13,000 employees in the Gaza Strip, 90% of whom haven’t received their full salary…. More than 50% of the [overall] employees are committed to honor bank checks and bills of exchange, so their salaries are encumbered,” he noted.
More than 50% of the employees are committed to honor bank checks and bills of exchange, so their salaries are encumbered
Tuesday’s demonstration was not the first protest against reductions in UNRWA services over the past few years, which have seen layoffs, dismissals and the termination of contracts.
Mohammed Abusteita, whom the agency laid off in 2018, attended the demonstration.
“We are 48 dismissed employees,” he told The Media Line.
“We call upon the UN administration to return us to our jobs, from which we were fired for no reason…. Since May 27, 2018, we’ve continued to protest at the western gate of the UN headquarters [in Gaza City], but we’ve never received a response from the UN commissioner.”
We call upon the UN administration to return us to our jobs, from which we were fired for no reason
With unemployment at more than 50% and a poverty rate of 45%, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, the repercussions from the unpaid salaries and reduced services will be catastrophic for the more than 2 million residents of the Gaza Strip.
Protester Yosra Almaqadma, a member of the UN teachers union, told The Media Line that many UN employees help support other families.
“All of them will be negatively impacted by deferring or splitting the salary payments,” she stated.
“This unfair decision comes at a time when all the employees are working their hardest. Actually some of them are doing double duty, whether it is remote or regular work, amid the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said.
This unfair decision comes at a time when all the employees are working their hardest. Actually some of them are doing double duty, whether it is remote or regular work, amid the COVID-19 pandemic