Under the international theme “Societies thrive when the dignity and rights of all people are respected” and in recognition of the importance of social workers in serving Palestine refugee families in Gaza, the UNRWA Relief and Social Services Programme (RSSP) organized a celebration on the occasion of World Social Work Day on 15 March. An event honouring the Agency’s social workers was held at the UNRWA Gaza Training Centre (GTC) attended by UNRWA social workers, the Deputy Director of UNRWA Operations in Gaza, Ms. Melinda Young, as well as other senior UNRWA staff. UNRWA RSSP in Gaza works with a capacity of 224 social workers distributed in 16 RSSP offices in all five areas of the Strip. Social workers play a fundamental role in providing and facilitating UNRWA services to Palestine refugee families and individuals. Social workers are, among other tasks, responsible for the assessment of refugee households through regular home visits based on the Poverty Assessment System (PAS), they support the Infrastructure and Camp Improvement Programme in their shelter assessments for rehabilitation or rehousing of Palestine refugee families, or they assist particularly vulnerable groups, such as persons with disabilities, children who lost one or both parents, women and elderly persons, through special programmes and targeted services.
UNRWA completed phase three of the Rafah Rehousing Project for Palestine Refugees in southern Gaza during the reporting week. The Project is UNRWA’s largest rehousing project in the Gaza Strip. Since its commencement in 2001, the project has provided more than 1,700 housing units for some 10,000 refugee families. The third construction phase of the project, now completed, started on 1 January 2015 and includes 230 housing units accommodating 1,310 Palestine refugees (approximately 281 refugee families). Phase three offers three types of housing units, according to family size, and all housing units include at least two bedrooms, one living room, one bathroom, one toilet and one kitchen. In addition, the project includes buildings with one floor and buildings with two or three floors to accommodate extended refugee families who fulfil the eligibility criteria. For more information on the eligibility criteria for this project, please consult the attached fact sheet.. The handing over of housing units commenced on 20 March when selected families started signing their undertakings to receive the keys to their new homes. In its current rehousing projects in Gaza, UNRWA follows a co-signing policy between husbands and wives, meaning that both parties are required to sign the undertaking so that the whole family has the right to benefit from the housing unit. Through the co-signing policy, UNRWA ensures gender-equality in its service delivery and thus contributes to Sustainable Development Goal number five (gender equality). The Rafah Rehousing Project is funded through a generous contribution of US$ 109.5 million from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia through their Saudi Fund for Development.
As part of their continuous efforts to support the Palestinian people, UNRWA and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) signed a memorandum of understanding for the amount of US $31.8 million, from the Saudi Fund for Development. The generous donation will cover house rehabilitation works in the Gaza Strip. Bo Schack, Director of UNRWA Operations in Gaza and Roberto Valent, UNDP Special Representative of the Administrator, attended the ceremony, which took place at UNRWA premises in Gaza on 15 March 2016. The project, funded by the Government of Saudi Arabia through the Saudi Fund for Development, will include the rehabilitation of houses for Palestinian non-refugees affected by the 2014 hostilities in the Gaza Strip, in addition to the maintenance, furnishing and equipping works for three schools namely the Rosary Sisters, Holy Family and the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate School. UNRWA will administer the grant and be involved in monitoring of the project, advising on construction based on its vast experience in the Gaza Strip. As part of the agreement, UNDP will make available its technical resources to implement the project activities. The self-help modality will be used during the project, where families will be provided with support to rebuild their homes and indirectly improve their livelihoods. The programme will prioritize female-headed households and will take into consideration family size and current socio-economic status of targeted population.
The latest Ask the Director (ATD) programme is currently being broadcast on UNRWA TV and its associated You Tube channel. The programme affords the Director an opportunity to highlight key issues and news of interest to Palestine refugees in Gaza. In his second episode, Mr. Schack talked about UNRWA construction activities, the new UNRWA food baskets, and the Agency’s initiatives related to youth unemployment through its Job Creation Programme (JCP) and its Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) Programme. ATD is a programme that addresses questions from refugees in Gaza, and is one of the Agency’s Community Engagement/Communications with Communities (CwC) tools. Questions are submitted and collected via UNRWA Gaza’s staff portal, which includes a mechanism for questions from the public. It is worth noting that the majority of UNRWA’s personnel in Gaza are refugees themselves and live within refugee communities. The interview (with Arabic dubbing) can be viewed here.
In 2015, UNRWA Gaza created over 29,000 jobs which represent 10.5 per cent of all employed workforce in Gaza and contributed to reducing unemployment by 6.2 per cent. The average unemployment rate in Gaza during 2015 stood at 41.1 per cent, 36 per cent for men and 59.6 per cent for women, as reported by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS). For Palestine youth, unemployment hovered around 61 per cent on average and at almost 80 per cent in average for youth female refugees, according to PCBS. Between 2014 and 2015, male unemployment decreased by more than four per cent, but the female rate increased in the same time by three per cent, up to almost 60 per cent. This is the highest annual female unemployment rate ever reported by the PCBS.
On 16 March, the Director of UNRWA Operations in Gaza, Mr. Bo Schack, visited the “Our Women Products” exhibition organized by the Women’s Affairs Centre in Shahelat in Gaza city as part of his regular outreach activities in the Gaza Strip. The exhibition displayed a variety of beautiful and elegant handmade products and homemade food designed and cooked by women from Gaza, aiming to increase their access to the local market. On the same day in another corner of Gaza city, the siblings Dima and Hamdi Shusha’a celebrated the opening of their atelier called “Tezzkar” (souvenirs).The opening attracted dozens of curious Gazans and visitors, including again Mr. Bo Schack, who has an interest in start-up initiatives developed by youth. “The youth of Gaza are suffering from unemployment, and for me the way out is to be creative; most people have a hobby or talent, and they should try to use that as a way out,” explained 28-year old Hamdi. The Gaza Strip is considered as having one of the highest joblessness rates in the world, particularly among youth. According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), in the third quarter of 2015 the overall youth unemployment rate stood at 62.95 per cent, and the youth female unemployment rate at 84.2 per cent. Wide-spread youth unemployment in Gaza often leads to frustration, anger, and loss of hope. For many Gaza youth, art and creativity are not only a hobby, but a necessity or a way out of cycles of unemployment, poverty, frustration and hopelessness.
In mid-March, the third UNRWA Area Staff Consultative Group Meeting took place in Amman, Jordan. Area Staff Consultative Meetings are led by UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl and attended by senior UNRWA area staff from all five fields of operations to talk about the Agency’s priorities, strategies and work plans; they also offer a forum for exchange and discussion. The third meeting focused on UNWRA initiatives and reforms in 2016 and on engagement and communications with Palestine refugees. Also 12 representatives from UNRWA School Parliaments were invited to the meeting, including students from Gaza. School Parliaments are responsible for raising concerns, suggestions and problems of students to the School Principal, teachers, parents’ councils and the overall UNRWA education team. They also actively promote human rights concepts through school radio programmes or school magazines, the organizing of events or visits to civil society and human rights organizations, as described in the UNRWA school parliament good practices booklet.
Operational environment: During the reporting week, regular protests took place in Gaza, predominantly by the Palestinian Journalist Bloc against the decision of stopping Al Aqsa TV Channel from broadcasting on the French satellite provider (Eutelsat). Protestors also regularly took to the streets to demand payment of their salaries from the Government of National Consensus. Further, demonstrations took place by beneficiaries demanding housing from UNRWA.
On 19 March UNRWA students of the Al Fukhari Preparatory Boys School in Khan Younis, southern Gaza, held a protest in their school against UNRWA’s decision to suspend their school principal and his deputy. Three teachers were injured and one UNRWA vehicle sustained damage. The students were asked to leave the school and return home to de-escalate the situation.
On 19 March the Financial and Administrative Control Authority in Gaza, accompanied by police, reportedly broke into the Palestinian Bar Association Office in Gaza city and confiscated computers and other documents.
On 19 March an UNRWA guard in the Deir El Balah Elementary Co-ed School in central Gaza, hired through the Agency’s Job-Creation Programme, was shot at and injured in his leg whilst on duty in front of the school. The motive behind the incident is reportedly and old family dispute, and not related to his role as a JCP or UNRWA. The police opened an investigation.
Palestine refugees in Gaza use their creativity for business opportunities amidst high unemployment rates
On 16 March, 36-year old Huda Abu Oda was sitting proudly in front of her stall at the “Our Women Products” exhibition organized by the Women’s Affairs Centre in Shahelat, Gaza city. The exhibition displayed a variety of beautiful and elegant handmade products and homemade food designed and cooked by women from Gaza, aiming to increase their access to the local market.
“I learned to do embroidery when I was still a student in an UNRWA school, and I loved it; then I started to teach my sister and soon after we started to cooperate and sell our products to the community,” explained Huda.
Huda is a Palestine refugee and lives together with her family of nine members in a small home in Beach camp, western Gaza city. Huda lives with a physical disability, but this does not hold her back in seeking to work and prosper amongst the difficult socio-economic circumstances in Gaza.
According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), the average unemployment rate in Gaza during 2015 stood at 41.1 per cent, 36 per cent for men and 59.6 per cent for women. Many refugees, particularly youth, are using their creativity as a way out of cycles of unemployment, poverty, frustration and feelings of hopelessness.
“I wanted to prove to everyone that although I have a disability, I have the ability to be successful,” Huda explained proudly.
Huda and her sister started selling their products to neighbours and were soon able to expand and today they are the owners of a home-based micro-business with ten other women contributing. This includes four other women with disabilities.
Huda and her sister have become the main breadwinners in their family which includes a total of nine members. The money they make through selling embroidery products is far from enough to support all of them, and the family relies on UNRWA assistance. Besides receiving education and primary health care through the Agency, Oda’s family is categorized by UNRWA as Abject Poor (meaning households who live below US$ 1.5 per capita per day) and they receive food assistance on a quarterly basis.
Summary of major incidents
During the reporting week, Israeli forces fired towards Palestinian areas along the perimeter fence and towards Palestinian boats on a daily basis.
Protests in support of Al Aqsa mosque and the situation in the West Bank were held across Gaza and in the vicinity of the perimeter fence. Protests near the perimeter fence, involving approximately 150 persons, predominately youth, took place east of Bureij camp in central Gaza, east of Gaza city, and in the vicinity of the Erez crossing. During these protests, some participants approached the perimeter fence and reportedly threw stones towards Israeli observation posts. Israeli security forces reportedly responded with gunfire and tear gas. As a result, the Ministry of Health reported that nine Palestinians were injured, three of them from gas inhalation.
On 15 March, five Israeli bulldozers reportedly entered 70 metres east of Khuza’a area in southern Gaza to conduct a clearing and excavation operation. They withdrew on the same day.
On 21 March, three Israeli bulldozers and two tanks reportedly entered approximately 150 metres into northern Gaza to conduct a levelling and excavation operation. They withdrew on the same day.
UNRWA is confronted with an increased demand for services resulting from a growth in the number of registered Palestine refugees, the extent of their vulnerability and their deepening poverty. UNRWA is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions and financial support has been outpaced by the growth in needs. As a result, the UNRWA Programme Budget, which supports the delivery of core essential services, operates with a large shortfall, projected for 2016 to stand at US$ 81 million. UNRWA emergency programmes and key projects, also operating with large shortfalls, are funded through separate funding portals.
Following the 2014 conflict, US$ 247 million has been pledged in support of UNRWA’s emergency shelter programme, for which an estimated US$ 720 million is required. This leaves a current shortfall of US$ 473 million. UNRWA urgently appeals to donors to generously contribute to its emergency shelter programme to provide displaced Palestine refugees in Gaza with rental subsidies or cash assistance to undertake repair works and reconstruction of their damaged homes.
As presented in UNRWA’s occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) Emergency Appeal for 2016, the Agency is seeking US$ 403 million to meet the minimum humanitarian needs of Palestine refugees in the oPt. The Agency requires US$ 355.95 million for programme interventions in Gaza, including US$ 109.7 million for emergency food assistance, US$ 142.3 million for emergency shelter assistance, US$ 60.4 million for emergency cash-for-work assistance, US$ 4.4 million for emergency health/mobile health clinics and US$ 3.1 for education in emergencies.
Longstanding restrictions on the movement of people and goods to and from Gaza have undermined the living conditions of 1.8 million Palestinians in Gaza. Israel prevents all access to and from the Gaza Strip by sea and air. Movement of people and goods in and out of Gaza is restricted to three crossings: Rafah crossing, Erez crossing and Kerem Shalom crossing. Rafah crossing is controlled by the Egyptian authorities and technically allows for the movement of a number of authorized travellers, Palestinian medical and humanitarian cases only. Erez crossing is controlled by Israeli authorities and technically allows for the movement of aid workers and limited numbers of authorized travellers, including Palestinian medical and humanitarian cases. Kerem Shalom crossing, also controlled by Israeli authorities, technically allows for the movement of authorized goods only.
Rafah crossing remained closed during the reporting week.
Erez crossing is usually open six days a week. It was open for National ID holders (humanitarian cases, medical cases, merchants and UN staff) and international staff from 15 to 17 March and from 20 to 22 March. On 18 March it was open for pedestrians only. It was closed on 19 March.
Kerem Shalom crossing is the only official crossing open for the transfer of goods into and out of the Strip and is usually open five days a week. It was open from 15 to 17 March and from 20 to 22 March. It was closed on 18 and 19 March.