“Before 2006, there were always work opportunities in Gaza. Nowadays, whenever I look for work, I am refused. I have children to feed and a sick mother to care for.” Hussein al-Najjar is a 40-year-old Palestine refugee from Gaza and was working as a construction labourer before Israel imposed the blockade on Gaza. He is solely responsible for his family of nine, which includes his wife, six children and his ailing mother who requires constant care.
Al-Najjar is one of the tens of thousands of Palestine refugees who were directly affected by the Israeli land, air and sea blockade, which enters its thirteenth year this year, in the context of ongoing occupation of the Palestinian territory, coupled with cycles of hostilities and violence, political instability and restricted entry an exit at the Rafah border crossing with Egypt. In addition, the effects of the current political divide have been compounded by an energy crisis that hinders the delivery and availability of essential services and severely undermines economic activity. In the fall of 2018, the unemployment rate in Gaza reached 54.9 per cent.*
We met Mr. al-Najjar while he was cleaning the streets of Jabalia camp, a work opportunity provided through the UNRWA Cash for Work Programme. He explained in more detail the current situation his family members live in: ”My eldest son, who is 18 years old, has finished school and wanted to learn a trade, but he couldn’t find a job. My wife is a great, patient woman who never complains even though we have few means to survive on. My mother is sick and requires medicines and medical supplies, and I am unable to meet the requests of my younger children,” he says.
At an income of below US$ 1.74 a day, the al-Najjar family is classified as abject poor and, thus, eligible for the UNRWA cash-for-work programme, which aims to ensure that poor refugee households are able to cover basic needs in a dignified manner through provision of short-term employment opportunities. Of the 11,082 Palestine refugees in Gaza benefitting from this programme in 2019, 165 three-month job opportunities are maintained through the generous support of the Czech Republic.
“Nothing can give a man more dignity than having work and being able to provide for his family. This job opportunity finally allows me to settle some debts and take proper care of my mother. Working as a sanitation labourer in the camp where I was born and raised is a great source of gratitude. I am so happy that I am given this opportunity to contribute to my community, keep streets of the camp clean and satisfy the needs of my family, all at the same time” he says.
*PCBS Labour Force survey Q3 2018