Refugee youth in Gaza make the most of UNRWA job creation programme opportunities

19 June 2015
Twenty-year old Fares Sani is measuring window glass before cutting it, in Gaza. © 2015 UNRWA Photo by Khalil Adwan‬

The UNRWA Maintenance Office in Jabalia, northern Gaza, is full of old blue UNRWA school doors waiting for a makeover, piles of window glass, large white paint buckets, and other material necessary to keep UNRWA facilities in good working condition. Standing amid the material are two 20-year-old Palestine refugees - Jamil Jabir and Fares Sani.‬‬

The young workers have both successfully completed a 24-month-long vocational training programme for over-aged students (those who have previously failed two or more years in school) in the UNRWA Gaza Training Centre. They were soon after hired by the Agency for a six-month Graduate Training Programme (GTP) to further build up their capacities. The GTP is a one-time opportunity and part of the Agency’s Cash for Work Job Creation Programme (JCP); it targets graduates who have completed their vocational education within three years of starting the programme.‬‬

“We have both already completed five months of our job placement,” said Fares, who is employed as an aluminium worker in the Maintenance Office. “In one month, we will face difficult times – there are so few job opportunities due to the blockade.” He added, “Besides, there is not enough material entering the Strip to allow for more work.”

Fares is the only one in his family who has a job, and like most JCP workers in the Maintenance Office, he is trying to bolster his income with additional occasional jobs in private workshops. He is and will keep trying hard, but says, “Opportunities for extra work have become rarer over the past several months.”‬‬

His friend Jamil, who was trained and works as a painter, has different plans. He is currently studying to repeat the ‘Tawjihi’ – the high school completion certificate which he previously failed. “After that, I want to study engineering in the Palestine University and work as an engineer,” he said.

Yet both young men know that dreams can easily be crushed in a place like Gaza, where youth refugee unemployment rates are skyrocketing and, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, stood at 70.1 per cent in 2014 and at 66.3 per cent for male refugee youth.‬‬

“If the situation were different – if we did not have this blockade – I would try to open my own workshop or I would move to another country where I can apply all my skills and build up a business and a life,” said Fares.‬‬

“Planning a future is almost impossible for these young workers,” explained Mohammed Yasin, the supervisor of the UNRWA North Maintenance Office. “Before the blockade, people in Gaza did not only look for jobs with UNRWA. They also worked in the bustling private sector and made good business.” He added, “Now the situation is reversed and people are thankful to at least find work for three months.”

The UNRWA JCP is a pivotal instrument to ease the impact of widespread poverty and protracted conflict by providing short-term employment opportunities to refugees. In 2014, the JCP re-expanded by almost 20 per cent, from 17,053 short-term job opportunities in 2013 to 20,550 in 2014, thus benefiting almost 120,000 refugees in Gaza. In 2014, a total of US$ 18.1 million was injected into the Gaza economy through the JCP.

The Gaza Training Centre is complementary to the JCP, but more than money, it injects skilled labour into the economy. Since its establishment in 1953, over 17,300 young Gaza refugees have graduated from its trades and technical courses. In 2010, the training centre was reformed and a vocational training component for over-aged students was added; since then, 610 over-aged students have graduated as skilled labourers in a wide-range of fields.‬