Department of Public Information · News Coverage Service ·
26 March 1996
UNRWA COMMISSIONER-GENERAL VOICES CONCERN OVER WEST BANK,
VIENNA, 26 March (UNRWA) -- At the conclusion of a five day fact-finding visit to the Gaza Strip and West Bank, the Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), Peter Hansen, today voiced serious concern over the negative impact of the closures on the socio-economic condition of the Palestine refugees in the area.
"I am deeply concerned at the current and potential consequences of this closure on the health and well-being of the Palestine refugees in the territories" the Commissioner- General said. "Inevitably the poorest segments of the Palestinian economy are those immediately and severely affected, and it is these groups of needy Palestinians which are our priority concern."
At a meeting with the press held in Jerusalem today, Mr. Hansen said that the Agency's operations had been disrupted by restrictions on the movement of staff and supplies and construction projects -- schools, health centresand refugee shelters -- had been at a standstill for three weeks. West Bank staff were still unable to reach their workplace. Essential stocks, such as medical, food and construction supplies, were winding down. Refugees accounted for 78 per cent of the population in Gaza, and 38 per cent in the West Bank.
"The most serious shortage is that of buying power", Mr. Hansen stated,
pointing out that the proscription on Palestinian labourers from working in
Israel meant a stoppage of daily wages. The tight control over the
quantity and type of supplies entering Gaza in particular meant that
affected business enterprises could not operate, and the farmers faced a
price collapse in agricultural produce that they were able to export.
Workers in the commercial and agricultural sectors had been laid off,
adding to the already high unemployment. The inability to import building
materials had caused a slump in the construction industry, leading to
additional layoffs. In the West Bank, the general decline in economic
activity and the loss of jobs in Israel has led to a visible decrease in
income and available cash.
Mr. Hansen went on to say that the current closures, implemented on 25
February, had succeeded a number of previous ones. As a result,
Palestinians had had little opportunity to build savings over the recent
past. That compounded the effects of the present cash shortage, and
compromised the ability of needy Palestinians to acquire their daily
minimum necessities. The poor, both refugees and non-refugees, were using
up meagre savings and selling off or pawning such things as gold bracelets
and wedding rings. In addition, local entrepreneurs could no longer obtain
the 30-day credit, which was a mainstay of the local formal and informal
The Commissioner-General said he had been impressed "...by the
Palestinian community's strength and determination in weathering these
crises. For example, when Agency teachers could not get to their schools,
they held informal classes within the camps and towns to which they were
restricted. Furthermore, some of the schools continued to function with the
assistance of volunteers from the community. These were mainly community
elders or senior students."
In response to an immediate concern, UNRWA made an emergency food
distribution in Fawwar camp in the West Bank, which was under a tight
curfew and remained sealed. Residents of other camps, both in Gaza and the
West Bank, were also demanding jobs and food. On 22 March, the
CommissionerGeneral toured Jericho, while on 24 March he visited West Bank
areas most affected by the closure.
During his visit to Gaza, Mr. Hansen met with Yasser Arafat, head of the
Palestinian Authority and President of the elected Council, to review the
situation. The Commissioner-General also urgently contacted donors to
discuss mechanisms for a rapid job-creation programme to be implemented by
UNRWA in the Gaza Strip. In addition, Mr. Hansen is scheduled to visit
Brussels on 28 March to urge the European Commission to replenish the
Agency's food stocks and enable it to meet emerging needs.
In Jerusalem, the Commissioner-General appealed in writing and in person
to the Israeli authorities at the highest levels, for an easing of the
closure and permission for Agency staff movement. Mr. Hansen emphasized in
his discussions with Israeli officials that the restrictions had crippled
UNRWA operations, which support the peace process by providing a certain
amount of social and economic stability.
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