UNRWA employees in Gaza Strip protest downsizing plans

By Hidayah al-Saeedi

GAZA CITY, Palestine (AA) – A general strike on Monday paralyzed operations at the Gaza City office of the UN’s cash-strapped Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA).

According to a UNRWA official, the strike is intended to protest the agency’s plan to scale down operations — and dismiss employees — in the blockaded Gaza Strip.

“Monday’s strike has affected the agency’s educational, health and relief services,” Ameer al-Mishal, head of the UNRWA employees’ union, members of which helped organize the strike, told Anadolu Agency.

Protest activity will “escalate further” if the UNRWA’s administration fails to meet strikers’ demands, al-Mishal said, noting that some 13,000 Gaza-based agency employees had taken part in Monday’s general strike.

In late July, a UNRWA spokesman announced that the agency — which continues to suffer from chronic funding shortfalls — would not renew the contracts of more than 100 staff members in Gaza.

According to the employees’ union, funding cuts have forced the agency to close its mental health program, which had provided direct services to Palestinian refugees in Gaza and had employed about 430 people.

UNRWA has also terminated the contracts of dozens of its engineers in recent months, union officials have said.

Late last month, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert announced that Washington would “no longer commit funding” to the refugee agency.

The U.S. had been UNRWA's largest contributor by far, providing it with $350 million annually — roughly a quarter of its overall budget.

Established in 1949, UNRWA provides critical aid to Palestinian refugees in the blockaded Gaza Strip, the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.