Jordanian schools, clinics shut as UN Palestinian agency strikes
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Jordanian schools, clinics shut as UN Palestinian agency strikes

Around 7,000 UNRWA workers walk out after demanding raises as agency faces unprecedented financial crisis

Two boys climb their UNRWA school's gate in Al Nasr refugee camp in Amman, Jordan Feb. 1, 2010, after the end of the first day of the second semester of the school year (AP Photo/Mohammad Abu Ghosh)
Illustrative: Two boys climb their UNRWA school's gate in Al Nasr refugee camp in Amman, Jordan Feb. 1, 2010, after the end of the first day of the second semester of the school year (AP Photo/Mohammad Abu Ghosh)

AMMAN, Jordan — Thousands of employees of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees went on strike in Jordan on Sunday, shutting schools and health centers that provide services for more than two million people.

The strike demanding pay raises is being observed by around 7,000 workers, UNRWA spokesman Sami Mshamsha said, and comes as the agency faces an unprecedented financial crisis.

It has brought to a standstill work at UNRWA schools, clinics and centers providing social welfare to refugees across Jordan, Mshamsha said.

“We deplore this strike and we are worried about the impact it will have on the services provided to the refugees,” he said.

Refugee schoolchildren attend an official ceremony to return to school at one of the UNRWA schools at a Palestinian refugee camp Al-Wehdat, in Amman, Jordan, September 2, 2018. (AP Photo / Raad Adayleh)

A union of UNRWA workers said the action that began Sunday morning was “open-ended” and all staff members were observing it.

Students should stay at home as UNRWA-run schools and universities would remain closed, it said.

More than two million Palestinians are registered as refugees with UNRWA in Jordan. The agency runs 169 schools in the kingdom — where some 120,000 students are enrolled — as well as a faculty of science and educational arts, 25 primary healthcare centers and other services.

UNRWA provides vital schooling and medical services to some five million Palestinians in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, as well as east Jerusalem.

In this January 14, 2018 photo, a Palestinian woman has her child checked at an UNRWA-run clinic in the Shati refugee camp, Gaza City. (AP Photo/ Khalil Hamra)

In 2018, the United States suspended and later cut all funding for UNRWA, causing a financial crisis that threatened to see its schools and hospitals closed.

US President Donald Trump’s administration, along with Israel, accuse UNRWA of perpetuating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by extending refugee status to millions of descendants of Palestinians who fled or were forced out of homes in today’s Israel at the time of the establishment of the Jewish state in 1948, rather than limiting refugee status only to the original refugees, as is the norm with most refugee populations worldwide.

The agency disputes that and says the vital services it provides would otherwise not be available to Palestinians who benefit from them.

The organization’s woes were compounded by the allegations of abuse by the agency’s management, leading other key donors — the Netherlands and Switzerland — to snap shut their purses.

Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations appealed to the international community to defund UNRWA in the wake of the ethics report.

Commissioner General for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) Pierre Krahenbuhl speaks during a press conference at the United Nations Information center in Cairo on September 10, 2018 (AFP PHOTO / Khaled DESOUKI)

In June UNRWA commissioner general Pierre Krahenbuhl told a news conference in Amman that the agency faced an expected $211 million shortfall in funding for 2019, calling on donors to fill the gap.

Mshamsha said the union has demanded a salary increase of 200 Jordanian dinars (around $280) but agreed to ask for half that amount following negotiations with UNRWA.

UNRWA, however, said it could only agree to a salary increase of 70 dinars per month, he said.

“Unfortunately the union rejected the offer and decided to go ahead with the strike,” Mshamsha said, calling on the union to return to negotiations.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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