UNRWA’s media adviser Adnan Abu Hasana
The Palestinian Return Centre (PRC) dubbed a decision by the UN Works and Relief Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) to temporarily cut the wages of day workers an unjust and immoral measure.
UNRWA’s media adviser Adnan Abu Hasana said the Agency opted for such a measure owing to an “extremely alarming” financial situation.
Speaking with PRC, Abu Hasana said UNRWA decided to lay off day laborers after its operations have been partly halted in its five fields of operations in line with precautionary measures taken by host countries to prevent further COVID-19 contaminations.
The decision affects hundreds of day workers, including teachers and cleaning workers in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, the West Bank, and Gaza Strip.
Abu Hasana said day laborers will only be paid in return for work done in favor of the Agency, as stated by the work contract struck between the two sides.
He added that UNRWA is undergoing the worst financial crisis since its founding in 1949, adding that the Agency has called for a minimum of US$ 1.4 billion to fund the Agency’s essential services and assistance, including life-saving humanitarian aid and priority projects, for 5.6 million registered Palestine refugees across the Middle East for the year 2020. However, the Agency received only USD170 million.
The UN official refused to reveal the number of day workers recruited by the Agency. Activists estimate that 1,000 day lobrers were recruited by UNRWA in Gaza alone, 800 among whom in the education sector.
In statement issued in response to the decision, PRC said that responses to coronavirus outbreaks should not be made at the expense of workers’ sole livelihoods and to the detriment of their humanitarian needs.
“Palestinian refugees and their families should not be turned into ‘scapegoats’ for the anti-coronavirus battle”, stated PRC in a statement issued earlier this week.
The Centre warned that if serious measures are not taken to protect Palestinian refugee workers and their families who continue to struggle for a living, the consequences will not be very much less tragic than those wrought by the coronavirus pandemic.
At the same time, the London-based Action Group for Palestinians of Syria (AGPS) has called on UNRWA to protect the rights of day laborers particularly in light of the socio-economic discomfort inflicted by COVID-19 outbreaks.
AGPS said the diminution in UNRWA operations is the outcome of agreements made with host countries to prevent further COVID-19 contaminations, rather than a personal decision willingly taken by the workers themselves.
“In light of the coronaviurs crisis and the unprecedented employment rates rocking the region, the decision will result in a further deterioration of the calamitous humanitarian condition endured by Palestinian refugee workers”, said AGPS in its statement. “UNRWA represents a lifeline for nearly 95% of Palestinian refugees in Syria, many of whom work in favor of the agency on a daily or monthly basis”.
“UNRWA’s decision stands in sharp contrast to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights” the statement further read. “UNRWA should live up to its legal, moral, and humanitarian responsibilities regarding Palestinian refugees and work on securing the financial dues of workers and their families”.
The human rights watchdog also stressed the need for UNRWA to continue to provide Palestinian refugees with vital services, much-needed food and non-food items, and life-saving medical assistance.