In the first floor of a tall, beige building in the Jabalia neighbourhood in northern Gaza, Mujahed Mahmoud al-Sosi sits behind a small desk full of piled papers and notepads. A map of the Middle East decorates the wall, next to a selection of different fabrics, from claret red to salmon pink to marine blue. The Al-Sosi Company was once one of Gaza’s bustling trade companies, exporting the famous high-quality Sosi furniture to Israel and from there to Europe. But in 2007, Israel enforced its blockade on Gaza, and Mujahed’s business started to crumble. Whereas before 2006 he employed between 150 and 170 labourers on a full-time basis, today only a fraction – around 30 labourers (or 20 per cent) – remain. At times, this number decreased to only 20 labourers on a part-time basis.
“Nine years of the blockade have made it extremely difficult for companies and businessmen in Gaza to survive; the future of labourers, their dreams and their families, are in a precarious situation,” commented the 49-year-old manager, himself a father of six, who struggles to keep the company running and competing for the small Gaza market with other furniture companies.
“Our exports decreased from 100 per cent in 2006 to zero in 2014, reaching only 20 per cent in 2015 and even then, only to the West Bank market,” he added, shaking his head in disbelief about the dire situation he finds himself in.
UNRWA tries to ease the adverse effects of the blockade through various programmes, including the large-scale cash-for-work Job Creation Programme (JCP), through which the Agency provides short-term employment opportunities for refugees to inject urgently needed cash into the economy. Since May 2013, 9 skilled and 12 unskilled JCP workers have been placed in the Sosi factory and the benefit is two-fold: while the company profits from subsidized labour that helps it survive in these difficult times, the JCP workers are able to greatly improve their skills, raising their chances in the highly competitive Gaza job market. Currently, the Sosi factory still employs four of the former JCP workers, even after their original contracts came to an end.
In 2014, UNRWA injected a total of US$ 18.1 million into the economy through JCP and almost 120,000 refugees benefited from the programme through the provision of 20,545 JCP positions.