The London-based Palestinian Return Centre (PRC) has strongly condemned a decision by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) to suspend the salaries of day workers.
UNRWA spokespersons have announced the Agency’s decision to lay off day workers (staff hired and paid one day at a time) after UNRWA has had its operations curtailed in its five fields of operations in response to COVID-19 outbreaks.
Such a decision is arbitrary and unjust and it will affect thousands of UNRWA staff who are the sole breadwinners for their cash-stripped families, particularly in poverty-stricken Gaza and war-torn Syria. A suspension of their daily wages means that hundreds of children, women, and disabled persons risk to become deprived of vital items, including food and life-saving medicines.
Regardless of the legal gist of UNRWA’s work contracts, humanitarian considerations should be taken into serious account by UNRWA at a time when thousands of families have been struggling for survival and thousands of breadwinners have putting their lives at serious risk to provide for their children.
UNRWA should immediately backtrack on such an arbitrary measure and keep shelling out the daily wages of such highly vulnerable people. Responses to coronavirus outbreaks should not be made at the expense of workers’ sole livelihoods and to the detriment of their humanitarian needs.
PRC calls on UNRWA’s newly-appointed Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini of Switzerland to immediately step in and work on having such a lay-off measure rescinded at the soonest possible time. Palestinian refugees and their families should not be turned into “scapegoats” for the anti-coronavirus battle.
The United Nations and donor parties should also take their share in such a humanitarian struggle for survival undergone by over 5 million Palestine refugees registered with the Agency. The need for financial, medical, and humanitarian assistance has become more urgent than ever at this critical stage.
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.