|Palestinian refugees on hunger strike||More information|
|Eighteen Palestinian refugees started
a hunger strike on September 3 to protest against budget cuts planned by
a United Nations agency that provides refugees with health, education and
relief services. They are holding their protest in front of the Beirut
headquarters of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees
The agency says it has a $20 million budget deficit and has appealed to the international community for financing. Only Norway, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Ireland, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia have paid their full share under U.N. assessments. The United States, the major donor whose share is $70 million, still has to come forward with its contribution.
Last July, UNRWA made an appeal for $11 million to cover the urgent medical and educational needs of Palestinians in Lebanon, to whom the government does not provide any health, education, or relief services.
During the first three days of the hunger strike six of the protesters had to be admitted to hospital. The refugees say that the budget cuts will lead to a further deterioration in their living conditions which are already bad enough and vow to continue to refuse food until the agency reverses its decision.
The proposed 7 million dollar budget cuts have already triggered off two general strikes in the 12 Palestinian refugees' camps in Lebanon where 353,000 Palestinian refugees live.
At least 40 per cent of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon are unemployed. According to UNRWA, jobs in farming and construction have become scarce because of the arrival of many migrant workers from neighboring Arab countries and the Far East.
Palestinian refugees in south Lebanon continue to suffer the consequences of an unstable situation. Two of the people killed last month when a pro-Israeli militia bombed Sidon were Palestinians.
The financial crisis facing UNRWA has also been felt in Gaza. The agency, which provides education for some 188,000 Palestinian children in 267 schools, is asking for a $14 annual fee from the parents. It has also had to cancel plans to recruit 200 teachers and to stop hospitalization reimbursements as from November.
The needs of Palestinian refugees are increasing rather than decreasing. Every year their population increases by 5%. These last years have brought more poverty with Israel closing the borders with the occupied territories for long periods. During these times Palestinians are unable to go to work or sell their produce. UNRWA was set up after the 1948 Middle East war. It provides services to 3.4 million Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria who fled there during the war and subsequent conflicts. Finical problems have beset the agency for many years but last year it stopped employing new people. About 22,000 Palestinians work for the UNRWA mainly as teachers, doctors and nurses.
The permanent status of the Palestinian refugees is due to be settled
under the final stage of the Oslo peace accord but with the whole peace
process now in doubt there seems to be no end in sight for their sufferings.
Palestinian collapses in Beirut hunger strike
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