4 April 2013
Demonstrators today stormed the compound of the UNRWA Gaza Field Office in response to a programme cut necessitated by budget shortfalls. The incident is a dramatic and disturbing escalation in a series of demonstrations that have taken place over the past week.
"We fully understand the impact the decision to suspend cash assistance had on some of our beneficiaries. The Agency was able instead to introduce and expand its Job Creation Programme to mitigate the effects of the reduction in cash distribution to the poorest refugee families in Gaza,” stated Director of UNRWA Operations in Gaza Robert Turner. He added that the Agency’s large-scale food distribution programme, that has an increasing caseload of over 800,000, will continue unchanged.
Commenting on today’s escalation and demonstrators breaking into UNRWA’s compound, the Gaza Director stressed that the Agency “respect people‘s right to peaceful demonstration but what happened today was completely unacceptable: the situation could very easily have resulted in serious injuries to UNRWA staff and to the demonstrators. This escalation, apparently pre-planned, was unwarranted and unprecedented". "These demonstrations affect our ability to provide much needed service to the Palestine refugees in Gaza and—because they also targeted the Gaza headquarters building—our operations in the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria."
Demonstrations during the past week had already forced UNRWA to close many of its facilities. With the situation further compounded by today‘s actions, all relief and distribution centers will consequently remain closed until guarantees are given by all relevant groups that UNRWA operations can continue unhindered. "This is a very regrettable situation for us to be in, as food distributions right now are taking place for some 25,000 refugees every day. But we cannot tolerate these ongoing threats to our staff: their safety is of crucial concern at the moment," added Turner. "Any other affected installations will also remain closed."
UNRWA calls on all the groups behind today‘s event to immediately stop inciting crowds at these demonstrations and to conduct themselves in a responsible manner. The Agency also calls on the authorities to play their role in providing security and ensuring demonstrations remain peaceful, and encourages donors to continue to fund UNRWA‘s vital relief programmes.
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UNRWA is a United Nations agency established by the General Assembly in 1949 and is mandated to provide assistance and protection to a population of some 5 million registered Palestine refugees. Its mission is to help Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank and the Gaza Strip to achieve their full potential in human development, pending a just solution to their plight. UNRWA’s services encompass education, health care, relief and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, and microfinance.
Financial support to UNRWA has not kept pace with an increased demand for services caused by growing numbers of registered refugees, expanding need, and deepening poverty. As a result, the Agency‘s General Fund (GF), supporting UNRWA’s core activities and 97 per cent reliant on voluntary contributions, has begun each year with a large projected deficit. Currently the deficit stands at US$ 67.2 million.
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