51,000 children have been out of school for over a month, over 40 health clinics have been closed and garbage is piling up around the camps, due to the recent UN-employee strike. Yet, there are no signs of a solution to the dispute, reports the Palestinian News Network (PNN).’Where are the rights of the refugees?”, asks Khalil Bal’awi, resident of Al Dheisheh refugee camp in Bethlehem.
‘Our children are now on the streets. There is no medicine and trash is blocking the streets of the refugee camps. UNRWA doesn’t care about us or about the employees. It’s not enough that we are under siege and apartheid wall, and that we have been deported from our lands.’
5,000 employees at the UN refugee agency, UNRWA, in the West Bank, have been on strike since December 3rd of last year, demanding higher salaries and permanent contracts instead of short term contracts. Yesterday, UNRWA employees in Gaza also went on strike, in demmand of higher salaries.
UNRWA spokesperson Christopher Gunness states that UNRWA is paying, on average, 20 percent above the comparable salaries at the Palestinian Authority which, he says, is totally within the agency’s salary policy.
‘It is such an unjustified strike. I think that punishing refugees, who are already punished by the occupation in the West Bank and the blackade in Gaza is completely unjustifiable’, says Gunness.
Despite the fact that the refugees are suffering from the strike, the strikers claim that in the end the refugees will benefit from it.
‘The refugees need the strike. We are fighting for their needs also’, according to one of the strikers. ‘We want UNRWA to increase the servies in the camps to the same level as it was a few years ago.’
‘I have not heard that argument before, and I don’t understand it’, said Gunness. ‘Why are they stopping 51 000 children being educated if they are worried about services being withheld from the refugees? That is totally illogical.”
He added that increasing the services to refugees has never been an official demand from the strikers.