Protesters back UNRWA employees in Bethlehem demo
Published Monday 20/01/2014 (updated) 21/01/2014 11:50
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- A demonstration was held on Monday in Bethlehem to pressure the UN's Palestine refugee agency into responding to the demands of employees who have been on strike for almost 50 days.
Participants in the demonstration, which was called for by the union of local UNRWA employees, marched through the alleys of the refugee camps in Bethlehem and raised black flags.
Member of the union Ahmad Sweilem said that black flags were raised in a clear message "to say that we are in mourning over the activities and services of the UNRWA."
Samira Atta, member of the Popular committee in Aida camp, said that they support the demands of the union, and fear that UNRWA might shut down and stop providing services.
Various demands have been cited by Palestinian UNRWA employees in the past 45 days of the strike, including wage increase, a change in UNRWA's policy regarding staff members who have been detained by Israel, and the reversal of December's layoffs.
Strikes have been ongoing since the time of layoffs, leading to a major reduction of services in the West Bank's 19 refugee camps.
Additionally, hunger strikes -- carried out by dozens of former employees from Jerusalem, Hebron, Bethlehem, and Nablus -- are in direct protest of the layoffs of 55 workers in December.
UNRWA representatives, however, say that the workers were on temporary contracts and were laid off due to budget cuts. Additionally, they argue, the workers did not apply for job openings advertised after they were laid off.
UNRWA is the UN agency originally set up in 1949 to ensure relief and development for the Palestinian refugees expelled from what became the State of Israel in 1948.
Today, the agency provides health care, education, social services, and other forms of aid to nearly 5 million Palestinian refugees.