Jordan: Palestinian refugees fight against UNRWA funding cuts | UNRWA News
Amman, Jordan – Inside Jordan, Ali is a foreigner from the Gaza Strip. But on the outside, he is considered a Jordanian.
“How? ‘Or’ What?” the 35-year-old asks. “I’m stuck in between; neither here nor there.
Although he was born and raised in Jordan, Ali does not have Jordanian nationality. His identity card indicates that he is a Palestinian from the Gaza Strip, thanks to his grandfather who fled the territory during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
The little plastic card is the only remaining indicator that Ali is a “foreigner” – a label that restricts almost every aspect of his life, from his job to the car he drives, to the nationality of his children. He studied electrical engineering but, unable to find a job in the field, he works for a medical laboratory in Amman performing COVID-19 tests. He says he can’t vote, pays more than four times the amount of his driver’s license and passport fees, and has to go through a lengthy security approval process before he can buy an apartment .
“Life goes on,” the father of two told Al Jazeera. “But you spend your whole life looking for another, better nationality. For your children. I don’t want my kids to be in the same situation as me.
“If you think I’m Jordanian, give me full citizenship,” he said. “If you think I’m Palestinian, take me back to Palestine.
When the West Bank was placed under administrative control of Jordan in 1950, its residents were entitled to Jordanian citizenship. This excluded Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, who lived under Egyptian rule, Jawad al-Anani, a former Jordanian minister of labor, told Al Jazeera. During the 1967 war, those fleeing the Israeli-occupied West Bank were residents of Jordan, while those fleeing the Gaza Strip were not. When Jordan cut administrative ties with the West Bank in 1988, those from the West Bank living on pre-1950 Jordanian lands retained their full citizenship rights, while those in Gaza remained foreigners, al-Anani said. .
For those Palestinian refugees without citizenship in Jordan, including nearly 175,000 forcibly displaced from Gaza in 1967, and 18,000 others who fled war-torn areas of Syria, public benefits are virtually non-existent, said Widian Othman, door -Jordanian speech of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA).
This leaves UNRWA – the underfunded and cash strapped agency – their only support network to turn to. In Jordan, UNRWA operates 161 schools for nearly 120,000 students, 25 health centers, and provides food and cash assistance to about 60,000 of the most vulnerable Palestinian refugees, which is essential for those who do not. Jordanian nationality, Othman said.
A UNRWA donors’ conference, held in Brussels in mid-November, left the agency with about 40 percent of its needed funds, said Tamara Alrifai, spokesperson for UNRWA.
“The chronic underfunding of UNRWA has created immense distress for the agency, staff and the refugee community,” Alrifai said. “This has kept UNRWA from being able to truly upgrade and modernize its services. “
The United Nations agency provides services to 5.7 million Palestinian refugees – largely descendants of those who were forcibly displaced from their towns, villages and towns in Palestine in 1948 and 1967, and found themselves in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt.
About 40 percent of these refugees live in Jordan, according to UNRWA figures.
“The fact that the Palestinian refugees are suffering from the oldest unresolved conflict in the region works against them as there is donor fatigue and a slow erosion of their plight and history,” Alrifai said.
UNRWA delays wages, cuts benefits
Last month, UNRWA Commissioner General Philippe Lazzarini alerted 28,000 employees that the agency could not pay its November salaries on time.
Almost 90 percent of UNRWA employees are Palestinian refugees, according to Alrifai.
The principal of an UNRWA school in al-Baqa’a camp, the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Jordan, said teachers were frustrated.
“Everyone has families, bills, loans,” he told Al Jazeera, adding that with the delay in salary he was struggling to buy gasoline for his daily commute. half an hour from the Gaza camp. He spoke on condition of anonymity due to the UNRWA clause that prohibits employees from speaking to the media.
The principal noted that four of the school’s 28 teachers had stopped coming because they had not received their salary. In a crowded school where each class has nearly 50 students, such an absence disrupts the education of hundreds of children, he said.
The postponement of the payment of wages was preceded by three sit-ins and a strike in November alone to protest UNRWA’s failure to pay and provide benefits to current and retired employees, according to a release from Jordan Labor Watch.
“We feel pressure for UNRWA to want to reduce or stop its services,” said Mohanad, a teacher at the al-Baqa’a camp school, who preferred to use only his first name.
Although November wages were finally paid last week, Mohanad expressed concern that December wages would be delayed again.
Growing population, shrinking budget
UNRWA is now entering its 72nd year of operation. The tents that once housed Palestinian refugees have been replaced over time with crude concrete houses, with strict land lease conditions forcing the camp to grow, not go out.
The camps now look like poor and densely overcrowded towns; a maze of concrete houses for generations of families.
In the overcrowded al-Baqa’a camp, more than 129,000 refugees live in an area of 1.4 square kilometers (0.54 square miles).
“The number of people is increasing, but the services are decreasing,” Mohanad said.
He noted that UNRWA was providing school uniforms, books, stationery, a meal and vitamins to the students – but now these services are no longer offered.
Meanwhile, overcrowded classrooms and underfunded staff have left little room for schools to follow any sort of protocol to protect against the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There is no coronavirus here,” Mohanad said sarcastically.
According to Othman, a spokesperson for UNRWA in Jordan, financial shortages mean the agency is unable to recruit staff and its operations are run with less capacity.
Ahmad Hamada al-Bashetee grew up in what is commonly referred to as the Gaza Camp – the poorest of the 10 Palestinian refugee camps run by UNRWA in Jordan.
“Cleaning services have gotten worse here,” he said. “It’s a very dense area, which needs cleaning services for 24 hours. But the cleaning ladies only come in the morning.
Al-Bashetee also noted the extended wait times for health centers run by UNRWA – services on which it depends given the high costs of public health services without Jordanian nationality.
“There are problems with the health centers,” he said. “As the population has grown, the health centers have remained the same size. There are far too many people. “
Under political attack
The West Bank and Gaza Strip have been occupied by Israel for more than 50 years, prolonging the suffering of Palestinian refugees living in squalid conditions in camps in neighboring countries.
“UNRWA is the subject of intense politically motivated attacks that seek to question its legitimacy and undermine its added value, in an attempt to undermine the rights of Palestinian refugees,” said Alrifai, spokesperson for the Palestinian Authority. UNRWA.
In 2018, former US President Donald Trump slashed the entire US aid budget for UNRWA. While under the Biden administration aid resumed it was offset by the “sharp drop” in funding from a number of countries, including the UK and the Gulf states, al-Rifai said. .
Critics of UNRWA say host countries should shoulder the burden of absorbing them.
“It is extremely strange that 50 years later, the people of Gaza are the only Palestinians in Jordan who cannot obtain Jordanian citizenship,” al-Bashetee said.
Jordanians fear that if you open citizenship to Palestinians in Gaza and the occupied West Bank, Jordan will become the “alternative homeland” to Palestine, said al-Anani, the former labor minister.
Today, about half of the Jordanian population is of West Bank-Palestinian descent, al-Anani noted. However, this is a “rough” estimate, he said, adding that the government does not keep an accurate count of people of Palestinian origin.
“UNRWA will continue to provide protection and assistance to Palestinian refugees in the Middle East until there is a just and lasting solution to their plight, that is, a political solution that includes them,” Alrifai said.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, UNRWA services were even more critical, given the camp’s overcrowded conditions, poor infrastructure and rising unemployment rates.
Al-Bashetee has been out of work for more than seven months; its ambiguous legal status presenting extreme difficulties.
“The first thing employers ask me is if I am Jordanian,” he said.
His refugee status – although he never set foot in the Gaza Strip – also presented obstacles to his personal life and his dream of settling, especially when he wanted to marry a woman who ‘he had met at university and who had Jordanian nationality.
“When I asked for this woman’s hand in marriage, her family refused me because I am Gazan,” he recalls. “They said, ‘You don’t have citizenship, you don’t have health insurance, so you can’t afford to support our daughter.”