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UN Asks Striking Workers To Return To Work

Chief Of UN Aid Agency For Palestinians Asks Striking Workers To Return To Jobs

The head of the United Nations agency helping Palestinian refugees today asked thousands of staff who walked off the job last month because of a pay dispute to return to work delivering food and medicines to people in the West Bank.

Peter Hansen, Commissioner-General of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees UNRWA), voiced his growing distress over the effect the strike by 4,000 workers, which began 11 October, is having on the humanitarian situation for over 660,000 Palestinians.

Mr. Hansen asked all UNRWA area staff in the West Bank to put the interests of the refugee population that they serve above all other considerations. He said in a statement that the Agency’s management has never closed the door on negotiations and is willing to consider legitimate demands once the strike is over.

“The general respect and admiration that UNRWA staff have enjoyed in the past is being undermined by an apparent disregard for the needs of the refugee community that they serve,” he said.

The UNRWA chief said he is particularly worried about the effect the absence of teachers from schools is having on 60,000 pupils at UNRWA’s 95 schools in the West Bank, many of whom have already lost hundreds of schools days due to other interruptions caused by curfews and closures.

He is also disturbed by the denial of emergency health services to refugees and the possibly tragic consequences of delayed vaccinations. Of special concern are those chronically ill refugees who now have no access to UNRWA-supplied medicines and the current lack of ambulance services. In addition, the Agency is worried about the deteriorating sanitary conditions in refugee camps where solid waste is becoming an increasing health hazard.

The strike has also brought to a halt the distribution of basic food rations to some 38,000 of the very poorest refugees – those in UNRWA’s Special Hardship programme as well as the thousands of beneficiaries of UNRWA’s emergency food aid – and has delayed shipments of food items and medical supplies.

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