Any visitor to any of the Palestinian refugees camps in the occupied West Bank would notice the scattered piles of garbage everywhere, despite popular campaigns to remove them. The strike of the service employees at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) in 19 camps in the occupied West Bank has turned these camps into a health hazard.
Not only public services, but all institutions managed by the agency have been completely shut down for 100 days. There are no educational, health, or care services due to the strike announced by the Union of Workers in the agency in protest against the union's inability to respond to their demands.
The union, in successive statements, announced a number of demands, foremost among them a cost-of-living allowance that the union has been demanding for employees in the occupied West Bank for over ten years, without any response.
The failure of the Commissioner-General of the agency to respond to the demands of the workers has created a state of anger and rejection among the residents who have called for urgent and immediate action to resolve their crisis and restore life to the camps. The strike has resulted in students losing out during the academic semester, and many of them and their families fear the loss of the entire school year.
In an attempt to pressure the agency's management to respond to the demands of the workers and allow them to return to their schools, hundreds of students gathered in front of the main school in Al-Jalazone camp near Ramallah. They demanded their right to return to their schools and temporarily closed the main street for minutes as a message highlighting the seriousness of the continued closure of schools on their educational future.
Ayham Hujjer one of these students in the fifth grade, fears that he won't be able to pass his grade due to the ongoing strike. He says, “I can no longer focus on my studies; I spend all my time playing in the street with my friends.”
As for Ayham, who dreams of studying journalism and media, he believes that the agency should respond to the demands of the teachers so they can perform their duties properly. This is also the consensus among all the students and their families in the camps, especially considering the reductions in services provided by the agency since 2004 until now.
In terms of numbers, the strike affects 4,000 employees in all sectors of UNRWA's work, providing services in approximately 100 schools and educational institutions with around 46,000 male and female students. It also affects 30 health clinics, in addition to the agency's central hospital in Qalqilya, which serves all refugees in the West Bank.
One of the Palestinian refugees in the camp, Mohammed Abu Anan, says, “What pains the refugees today is the fact that the strike has reached 100 days without any action from the international institution to find solutions. There is no attention given to the condition of sick refugees, as all services provided to them have stopped, nor to the children whose future is now at stake.”
He continues, "Today, we are living in a landfill. No one cares about our situation, as if there is an international conspiracy to completely end the refugee issue and dissolve it.".
According to Abu Anan, the UN agency has been reducing all services provided to the refugees for years. Only education and health services remained, but now even these services have come to a halt.
The General Union of Workers holds the responsibility for the continued disruption of work in all these sectors to the management of UNRWA and its Commissioner-General, who stubbornly refuse to consider any possible solutions and reject interventions by neutral parties.
Salah Rashid, who is leading the General Union of Workers and has been on a hunger strike for 28 days at the agency's headquarters in Sheikh Jarrah, stated that negotiations took place under the auspices of the Ministry of Labor, the Department of Refugee Affairs, and the popular committees in the camps. There was initial agreement from the agency's management, but they later reneged on all these understandings.