UNRWA employees in Gaza vow to protest funding cuts

By Hidayah al-Saidi

GAZA CITY, Palestine (AA) – Employees of the UN’s agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) on Thursday called for a series of measures to be taken in response to recent policy decisions by the agency’s administration.

The UNRWA employees union has called for a “civil disobedience” campaign to include protests, strikes and the closure of the UNRWA’s Gaza office.

"We will conduct a comprehensive strike at all UNRWA institutions [in Gaza] next Tuesday and Wednesday to protest the arbitrary measures the agency has taken against its employees and the services they provide," union head Amir al-Mishal said in Gaza City.

Al-Mishal said that UNRWA employees also plan to boycott “all UNRWA workshops and programs”.

“We also announce the closure of the agency’s Gaza office, and all sub-offices, starting next Sunday,” he added.

Employees, he continued, plan to escalate their protest activities “until we sit at the negotiation table [with top UNRWA officials]”.

Al-Mishal urged countries now participating at the UN General Assembly meetings in New York to "to increase their annual contributions to UNRWA to meet the shortfalls caused by recent U.S. funding cuts”.

According to the employees’ union, the 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.