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Syrian AidIn March 2021, the Biden administration announced it would provide roughly $600 million in humanitarian assistance to Syria. This Syrian aid aims to help the millions of refugees in the country as well as the native Syrian population. In addition to this pledge, the U.N. is seeking $4.2 billion to help Syrians and about $5.8 billion for countries hosting Syrian refugees. These efforts are being made as the war in Syria reaches its 10th year and continues to be one of the worst humanitarian crises.

US Aid to Syria

Secretary of State Anthony Blinken announced that the U.S. would contribute $600 million in aid during a conference titled “Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region” in Brussels. At the conference, Blinken said, “There is no military solution that will bring peace, security and stability to Syria and the region.” He then continued, “Systemic corruption and economic mismanagement at the hands of the Assad regime have exacerbated the dire humanitarian crisis, which has been further compounded by the challenge of COVID-19.”

At the figure of roughly $600 million, this amount is slightly less than the 2020 pledge from the U.S. where the U.S. aimed to contribute $700 million in Syrian aid. However, the United States still remains the largest donor in Syrian response efforts. In fact, the U.S. has contributed almost $13 billion to the cause since 2011.

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, also addressed the announcement of the Syrian aid at a press briefing. She confirmed, “This funding brings the total U.S. government humanitarian assistance to nearly $13 billion since the start of the decade-long crisis.” She further stated that the monetary assistance includes nearly $141 million in support of the COVID-19 pandemic efforts in the Syrian region. This assistance will provide humanitarian relief to the Syrians still living inside Syria as well as the 5.6 million Syrian refugees in asylum countries like Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq.

A Commitment to Continued Support

The pledge of $600 million from the U.S. also illustrates a break from the Trump administration’s efforts to cut aid to Syria and foreign assistance funding. However, even despite Trump’s opposition, Congress for the most part disagreed and U.S. assistance to Syria remained steady throughout his term. This continued funding comes at a good time as humanitarian needs in Syria has never been greater, according to the United Nations. Roughly 66% of Syrians need humanitarian assistance. Across Syria, UNICEF estimates that more than half a million malnourished children are experiencing stunted growth due to inadequate food and nutrition.

Vulnerable Palestinian Refugees

Meanwhile, the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) is still advocating for the support of the 440,000 Palestinian refugees in Syria. The UNRWA reports that a shocking 90% of these refugees in Syria are living in absolute poverty. Since the Biden administration pledged to restore relations with Palestinians, the U.S. is expected to resume aid to the relief agency since Trump ceased funding to the UNRWA in 2018.

With significant support from the U.S. and the rest of the international community, the humanitarian crisis in Syria may finally come to an end. Supporting Syrian aid ultimately means supporting the most vulnerable people in desperate need of relief.

Elisabeth Petry
Photo: Flickr

Art and Poetry at the West Bank WallIn the early 2000s, the decades of conflict between Israel and Palestine led many to demonstrate solidarity with the Palestinians. Around this time, Israel built the West Bank Wall that divides the territory. This wall has become a platform for artistic expression regarding the situation in the region and the overwhelming impoverished conditions. It also made way for a rise in poetic expression.

The West Bank Wall

In the early 2000s, the Israeli government began building the West Bank Wall to isolate and separate regions and landscapes. It has become one of the many issues and burdens that Palestinians have had to face. The wall stretches for over 400 miles, longer than the Green Line, the 1949 border set between the two territories. Additionally, 85% of the wall lies in the West Bank.

Since most of the wall sits on the West Bank, the Israeli government seized Palestinian land and homes for its construction. Hundreds of families lost their homes, livelihood, farms and water sources. The rest were isolated from the other side of the wall. About 140 Israeli checkpoints control the area, which exists under Militia Law. Within the boundaries of the wall, Israel has denied Palestinians basic freedoms, humanitarian assistance and material supplies, all of which have worsened the living conditions, especially for those living in poverty.

Despite the West Bank Wall’s detrimental effect on the Palestinians, they turned to art for hope and an escape from the daily violence and impoverished conditions. The West Bank Wall became a literal platform for artistic expression regarding the circumstances. Palestinians have contributed to different forms of art across the entire wall, whether it be portrait, symbolism, graffiti or abstract. This marked the drastic rise of the use of art as a form of communication. It has also kept the Palestinian flag alive, which was banned by the Israeli authority. Even international artists, like Banksy, contributed to the symbolic street art and murals across the wall.

Art Initiatives by Anera and UNRWA

While the West Bank Wall provides a platform for Palestinian artists, NGOs like Anera and UNRWA have worked to implement educational art and music programs for young children in Gaza and the West Bank. Anera works closely with local arts, music and cultural organizations in the West Bank and Gaza to promote artistic expression and learning. Anera has implemented summer camps at several preschools in Gaza that use artistic expression to provide psycho-social support for children. Since the situation in Gaza is relentless and draining, especially for children, it is important to provide an outlet that promotes stress relief. These summer camps serve to use art as a way to remove children from the constant austere conditions and the stresses of life. UNRWA schools provide similar classes and camps for the same purpose; to mitigate the psycho-social effects of the conflict and the stresses of poverty.

Gazan Women Sell Their Embroidered Art

Some Palestinian groups have even used art as a form of income. These individuals sell sewn accessories and painted portraits and landscapes of culturally significant symbols. A historical example that lives on to this day is The Sulafa Embroidery Project. Established in 1950, the organization employs several hundred women in Gaza and provides them with the necessary materials to create embroidered masterpieces. These pieces are sold internationally. In 2014, the women began making these pieces for the New York International Gift Fair. Unfortunately, due to the Gaza bombings in 2014, The Sulafa Embroidery’s initiatives temporarily ceased and The Poverty Alleviation Fund stepped in to ease the circumstances and allow the products and samples to reach the New York International Gift Fair.

The Gaza Poets Society

Art, however, is not the only escape from the stressful and burdensome environment. Poetry in Palestine has been around for a very long time. From Mahmoud Darwish to Fadwa Tuqan, poetry is rooted in Palestinian culture. Recently, there has been a break from the traditional and classical Arabic poetry — often performed in coffee shops and saloons — and a rise in poetry and live performances of all kinds of performing arts among young Palestinians, all for a way to feel free.

In 2018, Mohammed Moussa, a Palestinian born and raised in Gaza, founded the Gaza Poets Society, a nonprofit group of more than 30 young aspiring poets and performers from Gaza who meet every week to write and share poetry as well as plan for a monthly live event of performances. “It’s easy to lose hope when you’re locked in a place where 70% of Gazans are suffering from depression, 60% are classified as poor and 65% of college graduates have no job and no chance of getting one because of Israel’s blockade on Gaza,” said Moussa on a 2018 campaign raising money for the Gaza Poets Society operations.

Escape and Hope

Moussa understood the burdens that came with living in Gaza. “I think I have experienced a lot, growing up here. I experienced genocides, wars, deaths, suicide, siege. I was a friend of chaos, I was born in chaos, I still live in chaos.” he said. Moussa was born in the Jabalia Camp, the largest of the Gaza Strip’s eight refugee camps. It is a place not unfamiliar with the struggle to find hope. To Moussa and the rest of the group, the Gaza Poets Society is one of Gaza’s biggest forms of optimism. “Poetry is a beautiful escape from the unbearable reality we live in.” He said. “Words hold us more than the ground does in this city. That’s what we feel about poetry.”

For many Palestinians, art and poetry began as a form of resistance. Now, it provides hope and faith in a better future as well as a soothing outlet from the difficult and trifling times of today.

Nada Abuasi
Photo: Flickr

Palestinian Refugees
Prior to 2018, the United States was the largest contributor to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). UNRWA provides educational, medical and other resources to Palestinian refugees. While poverty rates of Palestinian refugees differ from country to country, about 25% live in overcrowded, unstable, underfunded and often unsafe refugee camps.

The services that UNRWA provides are vital to Palestinian refugees suffering from poverty. As a result, when diplomatic ties between the U.S. and Palestine severed, the organization lost 30% of its annual funding and basic resources became limited. Now, with the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent financial crisis occurring, UNRWA’s resources have experienced severe strain.

In a United Nations press briefing in November 2020, UNRWA Spokesman Tamara Alrifai said, “Despite the immense efforts to raise sufficient funds in 2020 to maintain UNRWA’s critical services to 5.7 million Palestinian refugees across the Middle East, as of yesterday November 9, UNRWA has run out of money.” As a result, the organization had to cut pay for its 28,000 employees, most of whom were refugees themselves, during a global pandemic and international financial crisis.

Twenty-seven days into his presidency, President Joe Biden promised to restore diplomatic relations, including aid, with Palestine. These are three ways that impoverished Palestinian refugees may benefit when diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Palestine resume.

Medical Care

Over 3 million refugees rely on UNRWA’s medical services for basic medical care. Because UNRWA’s financial crisis is also happening during a global health crisis, the biggest strain has been on the organization’s medical services. Medical facilities have been running low on supplies, staff and medicine. The strain on medical services disproportionately affects Palestinian refugees.

Seham al-Lahem, a young expectant mother, and other Palestinian refugees have requested that UNRWA cover their medical fees at a non-UNRWA facility. “We have been hearing of the financial problems facing UNRWA, and it has left me worried about my delivery and the medical services provided to me and my newborn,” said Seham al-Lahem. With the financial struggles facing UNRWA, it is possible that she may not receive the cash she needs to pay for her delivery.

Palestinian refugees are three times more likely to die from the virus than the general population and must rely on local governments to receive vaccines. In Lebanon, for example, 6,200 Palestinians have already registered to get the vaccine. However, in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, Palestinian refugees rely on Israel to provide vaccines. Israel has not, as of yet, provided the Palestinian territories with any doses.

UNRWA Commissioner-General has cried out for global help to provide vaccines for Palestinian refugees in the territories and in the diaspora. “I am counting on the international community to ensure the availability of vaccines to refugees worldwide, including Palestine refugees in the occupied Palestinian territory and throughout the region,” he said. It is possible that, with U.S. funding, it would be more feasible for UNRWA to connect Palestinian refugees living in the territories with vaccinations.

Food Assistance

UNRWA’s food assistance program is also under strain due to the pandemic. The organization is now asking for its donors to provide additional funds so that they can feed 1.2 million Palestinian refugees experiencing hunger. UNRWA’s food assistance programs are absolutely essential for those facing rapidly declining financial conditions. In Gaza, 75% of refugees lack the ability to put food on the table. To remedy this, UNRWA currently provides food packages to 620,310 refugees and cash-credit to another 389,680 to ensure that all Palestinian refugees meet their daily caloric goals.

Education

There are over 526,000 students in 711 UNRWA elementary and preparatory schools. These UNRWA-run schools provide books, school supplies and mental health counseling. Although UNRWA schools have stayed open despite funding cuts, the organization struggles every year to meet educational funding needs. Every year, the organization, parents and students worry that schools might not be able to open up again.

This uncertainty threatened the future of Palestinian refugee children. Education is important for children to gain the confidence, knowledge and connections required to transcend their socio-economic situation.

Schooling also meets a social need for child protective services for refugee children. According to the UNHCR, teachers and counselors at refugee schools often connect children experiencing abuse and violence with the appropriate resources. With restored funding from the U.S., UNRWA children, parents and teachers could thrive without worrying that educational opportunities may cease at a moment’s notice.

The US’s Opportunity to Embrace Humanitarianism

UNRWA’s services are essential to the health, food security and education of Palestinian refugees. The organization provides basic resources to an economically and politically vulnerable population. No political situation should ever get in the way of basic human needs such as access to food and healthcare. Therefore, it is vital that the U.S. include the restoration of funding to UNRWA in its plan to re-extend diplomatic relations to Palestine.

– Monica McCown
Photo: Flickr

Disability in Palestine
Palestine has one of the highest poverty rates in the world. The country has endured decades of political and violent conflict with Israel. Palestinians must also battle increasing unemployment as well as a lack of resources. These factors are particularly detrimental for Palestinians with disabilities. Disability in Palestine is an ongoing issue, and poverty influences it further.

The Challenge of Disability

Over 15% of the world’s population suffers from some form of disability. These range from impairment in vision, hearing, and mobility to trouble with memory and communication. However, developing countries are more vulnerable to disabilities due to their limited access to health care, education, water, sanitation, and electricity.

The World Health Organization estimates that one billion people worldwide live with disability or impairment. About 130,000 of these individuals live in Palestine. Of the 5.4 million Palestine refugees registered with UNRWA within Palestine, Lebanon, and Syria, 795,000 of them have a disability. In Occupied Palestine, 31.2% of elderly Palestinian have one or more kinds of disability. Additionally, more males suffer from disabilities than females, and about 20% of individuals with a disability in Palestine are under 18 years old.

Much of the disability in Palestine is a result of limited resources and an increase in violence. Insufficient prenatal and postnatal care, malnutrition, and inadequate medical services all contribute to prolonged disability and impairment. This lack of proper and adequate services is a result of the Israeli blockade and occupation, which prevents Palestinians from accessing goods and services.

The increase in violence also has a direct effect on the number of disabled individuals. There have been recent waves of violence and aggression in Palestine in 2009, 2012, and 2014. As a result, large numbers of Palestinians have been serious injuries. Out of the 11,231 Palestinians affected by these outbursts of violence, 10% experienced injuries that resulted in life-long disabilities.

The Effects of Disability

Disability can dramatically affect the livelihood of afflicted individuals. The education and health care systems are largely operated by UNRWA and USAID related programs through humanitarian assistance and funds. UNRWA has developed Disability Inclusion Programs, but very few of these initiatives focus on individuals with disabilities or increasing access to necessary services. In 2011, 42.2% of Palestinians with disabilities in Gaza and 35.5% in the West Bank never enrolled in school. Further, 27.1% of Palestinians with disabilities dropped out of school and 56.3% were illiterate.

Acquiring access to health care and rehabilitation is very difficult, especially in Gaza due to restricted movement and blockades. The same is true for access to medicine, supplies, and staffing. Having a disability, without the proper resources to acquire treatment, education, or income, can greatly increase the risk of poverty for an individual and their family. If an individual with a disability is already below the poverty line, their chances of escaping poverty are greatly reduced.

Having a disability in Palestine also hinders employment. The poverty rate in Palestine is 25%, and unemployment reached about 29% across the board. Over 90% of individuals with disabilities in Gaza don’t have employment. This is mostly because of the lack of accessible infrastructure, transport, toilets, and assistive devices and services in these workplaces. The presence of disability, especially an insufficiently treated disability, prevents individuals from completing education and finding employment, which lends itself to poverty.

Wrap Up

Disability is a challenge in every country. Palestine in particular is not unfamiliar with the hurdles facing individuals with disabilities. From the lack of adequate health care services to the lack of education and employment accessibility, individuals with a disability in Palestine are continuously vulnerable. Employers, educators, governmental organizations. and NGOs should work together to create a much more inclusive environment. There needs to be improvements in infrastructure and providing more resources and accessibility for Palestinians with disabilities.

Nada Abuasi
Photo: Flickr

The Prevalence of Refugee Poverty in JordanViolent conflicts and lack of opportunity have displaced millions of individuals across the Middle East over the past decades, and many of them have found refuge in Jordan. The bulk of refugees in Jordan are Palestinians and Syrians. Jordan hosts over two million Palestinian refugees registered with UNRWA and nearly 700,000 Syrian refugees registered with UNHCR, Although some estimate that there are closer to 1.4 million Syrians in Jordan. As of 2019, there were 10 Palestinian and five Syrian refugee camps in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. This article delves into the prevalence of refugee poverty in Jordan, as well as organizations working to fight this issue.

Palestinian Refugees

Just under 20% of Palestinians live in refugee camps. Mass immigration of Palestinian refugees first began during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, with another large spike after the 1967 War. While most refugees from 1948 have full citizenship rights in Jordan, many who came after the 1967 War do not, and a large percentage of refugees in general lack access to reliable education and healthcare and live below the national poverty line. Legal restrictions worsen refugee poverty in Jordan, as the situation in the Jerash camp shows.

In the Jerash Camp, 30,000 refugees are from the 1967 War. As many as 97% do not have a social security number, which severely limits where they can find employment, and many do not qualify for healthcare. Just under 50% of the people in camps live under the poverty line, and for those in the Jerash camp, unemployment is at almost 40%. These same Palestinian refugees see college expenses double that of Jordanians, and with few scholarship opportunities, no reliable job market and no student loans, many must forego a college education. The living conditions in these camps can reflect the lack of support for refugee poverty in Jordan. In 2018, the workforce responsible for cleaning the streets declined by over 75% due to pay cuts, leaving the camp caked with rotting trash, rats and flies.

Syrian Refugees

Approximately 83% of Syrian refugees live in poverty in Jordanian cities. According to UNICEF, 85% of Syrian refugee children live below the poverty line, with 94% of these children under the age of five dealing with “multidimensional poverty,” meaning that they are unable to gain access to basic needs like education or health services. Moreover, 40% of Syrian refugee families are food insecure, 45% of children up to age five do not have proper health services and 38% of Syrian children are not in school.

Similar to many Palestinian refugees, relatively few Syrian refugees have full legal rights, and even though they have access to public services, the actual availability of those services is severely hampered due to unsustainable demand. As mentioned above, only about 17% of Syrian refugees in Jordan live in camps, and it is only in these camps where they see some of their essential needs met thanks to funding by the international community.

Supporting Anera

Since 2004, Anera, a small humanitarian organization based in the Hashemite Kingdom, has been devoted to fighting Palestinian and Syrian refugee poverty in Jordan by providing education, health, community and emergency aid. In the Jerash Palestinian and Za’atari Syrian refugee camps, Anera delivers medicines, antibiotics and treatments for asthma and parasites to refugees.

Other efforts include providing materials for school and hygiene and funding for early childhood development and women’s economic empowerment programs.

UNRWA

UNRWA, or United Nations Relief and Works Agency, works to provide services in the 10 Palestinian refugee camps in Jordan. It supports 171 schools and by extension over 120,000 students, 25 healthcare centers, 10 rehabilitation centers and 14 women centers. It also provides social safety nets to almost 60,000 refugees and has awarded over $125 million in loans. UNRWA also protects vulnerable women and children by improving access to assistance and case management, as well as monitoring and advocating for the rights of Palestinian refugees in Jordan.

The Youth Base

In 2013, 27-year-old Obay Barakat started The Youth Base, a recycling initiative in the Baqa’a Palestinian refugee camp. Barakat, who lives in the camp, spoke with The Borgen Project about his motivations, saying, “The Baqa’a camp has more than 100,000 people in it, and they live in just two kilometers of space with no services. The situation is so bad that I started to work with schools to teach the new generation to save the environment in Baqa’a camp. The camp is not a good place when talking about population density or infrastructure, but the people here are family, and everyone helps each other.”

According to Barakat, until recently, few cared about this issue. He explains, “The hardest thing was people didn’t accept the idea, so I spent one year working only on awareness, teaching people about how recycling can solve environmental problems.” The Youth Base, which consists of Barakat and nine volunteers, works in the camp to recycle around a half-ton of metal, 10 tons of paper and eight tons of plastic every month. Barakat has used 30% of the money from recycling these materials to start a development project called Camp Theater, where they work with 120 children from the camp, making short films about societal problems like bullying, higher education, violence and harassment.

Jordan has become a center of hope for refugees forced to leave their homes in Palestine and Syria, but refugees often find themselves struggling as the scope of refugee immigration has overwhelmed the country and its resources. Refugee poverty in Jordan has become a serious humanitarian concern in the Middle East over the past decades. The international community, led by bodies like UNRWA, has stepped in to provide what aid they can, but it is smaller organizations like Anera, and even individuals like Obay Barakat, who find themselves picking up the slack. These organizations and people provide much-needed hope for those who have lost everything due to conflict and continue to struggle to find opportunities in their new homes.

– Connor Bradbury
Photo: Flickr

Turkey’s Foreign Aid
By contributing more than a quarter of the entire world’s humanitarian aid, Turkey became the leading country in providing aid to those in need in 2019. Needless to say, its strength in foreign aid is with humanitarian assistance. With combined efforts of government organizations, nonprofits and private donors, Turkey’s foreign aid comes through giving homes to refugees, aiding during natural disasters and providing relief for struggling countries.

Giving Homes to Refugees

Turkey is currently leading the world in hosting refugees. As of 2020, there are about 4.1 million refugees residing in Turkey. In addition to giving them homes, Turkey also has legislation to keep the foreigners and asylum seekers protected. The Regulation of Temporary Protection (RTP) allows those who are fleeing to Turkey to stay under its protection by making sure they do not have to return to the countries they fled. The Law on Foreigners and International Protection (LFIP) ensures the implementation of the RTP within and around Turkey’s borders.

UNHCR (United Nations Refugee Agency) is working with the government and other organizations, like UNICEF and Global Compact for Refugees, to make sure that the refugees receive proper aid once they are in Turkey’s borders. Living in refugee camps that the country provides, children obtain access to education either in Turkish public schools or temporary education centers. UNHCR encourages social cohesion between the refugees and local community members while monitoring tensions and issues. There are also efforts towards encouraging refugees to begin to rely on themselves and assisting some refugees towards resettlement.

Out of the 4.1 million refugees, about 3.7 million are Syrian. Syria has been in a civil war since 2011 and as a neighboring country, Turkey has been hosting its refugees since 2014.

The rest of the 400,000 refugees are all from different parts of the mostly Middle East but also Africa as well. Around 46% of the 400,000 are from Afghanistan, 39% from Iraq, 11% from Iran and a little less than 2% are from Somalia. The rest of them are other nationalities.

Aiding Countries During Natural Disasters

In addition to taking in refugees, Turkey is very active in its response to natural disasters by sending money or on-site relief. Since the early 2000s, it has conducted emergency foreign aid operations for a number of notable tragedies including:

  • Sending search and rescue teams as well as baby food, food and body bags to the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan.
  • Providing $2 million in aid including medical units, first aid items, tents, blankets, clothes, food and body bags to the earthquake in Haiti in 2010.
  • Donating $5 million and sending cargo planes with food packages, blankets, sleeping bags and beds to Pakistan for its floods in 2010.
  • Responding the fastest to the typhoons in the Philippines in 2014 by sending a rescue team and around 90 tons of aid including blankets, tents and kitchen equipment.
  • Sending food, clothes and cleaning products including blankets, diapers, sandbags and hygiene supplies to the Balkan floods in 2014.
  • Dispatching a search and rescue team and a medical aid team, and providing 1,000 blankets and 300 parcels of food to the victims of the Nepal earthquake in 2015.
  • Evacuating 1,000 people and sending food and clothes to the 2016 floods in Macedonia.

Helping Struggling Countries

 The last (and possibly the most important) is Turkey’s foreign aid to struggling and underdeveloped countries. Yemen, which is experiencing the “world’s worst humanitarian crisis” due to war and famine, has been continuously receiving foreign aid from Turkey. Turkey has two operational offices in Yemen: one in Sana’a and one in Aden. Out of the $7.6 billion that Turkey donated in 2019, almost $5 billion went to Yemen. The offices and funds went toward providing the locals with food and water, preventing diseases like cholera and collecting garbage.

Meanwhile, Turkey provided $2.3 billion to Syrians in Syria during 2019. This aid not only involved helping refugees but also went toward other “diversified humanitarian operations,” according to a conference report of Turkey’s Humanitarian Role. Turkey has worked to relieve the suffering of those still living in Syria near war and siege. For example, in 2016, it was the first to enter Aleppo and assist in the evacuation of its citizens.

In addition, Turkey has been a huge donor to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), which has helped those who are struggling in Gaza, Palestine. Turkey has also directly assisted Palestinians by donating $1 billion in 2017 towards community and development projects, specifically building a hospital (in Gaza) and a number of education centers. Recently, a hospital opened that has been assisting those affected by COVID-19. Other notable countries that Turkey has aided in the past and/or continues to aid include Somalia, Sudan, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tunisia and Georgia.

Turkey: A Model and an Inspiration

Turkey’s demonstration of continuous generosity serves as a leading model for other countries to utilize great amounts of foreign aid in assisting the world’s poor. By combining efforts of government and nonprofits, Turkey has shown that its methods are useful and effective, ones that may serve as a template for others who wish to follow in its footsteps.

– Maryam Tori
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

UNRWA
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) was specifically created to help Palestinian refugees after the 1948 Israeli-Arab war. The Palestinian refugee problem has only grown since its formation, so the U.N. has allowed the agency to continue operating.

Palestinian refugees are unique. Every person who was a resident or a resident’s descendant of what is now Israel all have a legal designation as ‘refugees.’ UNRWA now serves four generations of Palestinian refugees, having grown from serving 750,000 to 5.6 million.

The United States Pulls Funding

The United States pulled its funding from UNRWA in 2018. President Trump cited the reason behind the defunding as the agency’s incompetency. The United States had previously been contributing about $355,000 million of UNWRA’s budget.

The United States’ decision affected refugees who rely on UNRWA’s aid for education, health care, protection and basic human needs like food security. In 2017, reports determined that 39% of Palestinian refugees lived in poverty, and very little effort has occurred to assimilate Palestinians into host communities.

Palestine, Israel and the international community, in general, see the United States’ choice as an effort to delegitimize UNRWA and the 5.6 billion Palestinian refugees it serves. Revoking these generations of Palestinians’ refugee status would take away their right to return to their homeland.

Aftermath of Funding Removal

In 2020, the U.N. extended UNRWA’s mandate to the year 2023. However, UNRWA is still struggling financially. Not only did it appeal to the international community to donate a minimum of $1.4 billion for the yearly budget, but it requested another $14 million for COVID-19 emergency aid.

The UNRWA reported that it can only sustain operations until May 2020 with the added health crisis that COVID-19 brought on. It has only raised one-third of its budget. UNRWA’s director stated that the UNRWA must run on a “month to month basis” enduring the biggest financial instability since its creation.

Pleas for Help

The United States made the suggestion to transition the UNRWA’s responsibilities into the hands of the Arab countries that host Palestinian refugees. However, these nations are struggling to fill their own funding gap. Arab countries are suffering from high poverty rates and an influx of refugees from the ongoing conflict in Syria.

UNRWA has also sought the help of NGOs, such as Islamic Relief USA, to fill the funding gap. This is a faith-based organization that works to raise funds and mobilize volunteers for a range of initiatives including UNRWA. It has been helping Palestinian refugees since 1994. Islamic Relief USA has served 1,077,000 people from 2017 to 2019.

The United States government might have cut off funding to UNRWA as a result of flaws within the agency. It might have hoped to delegitimize the Palestinian right of return. Either way, Palestine’s impoverished people need UNRWA’s support. If UNRWA is not successful in gaining new donors, they will lose their access to education, health care and other necessary securities that are human rights.

Olivia Welsh
Photo: Flickr

peace in palestine
The current issue between Israel and Palestine is a critical conflict as Palestinians face possible annexation from regions in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, affecting 2.1 to 3 million Palestinians. The political strife has been off and on for approximately 100 years as the possibility of annexation becomes a reality. However, the questions of education, healthcare and human rights become prevalent when considering Palestine and its people. Here’s what you need to know about the problem with peace in Palestine.

The Conflict

Palestine and Isreal’s conflict of political power stems from the want for the same land and the power over it. With Isreal already in control of 60% of the West Bank and looking to control upwards of 30% more, Palestinians are worried about their homes and lives as they could force individuals to leave as a result. For many Palestinians, the overall result of the annex is hard to determine, but United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights leader Michelle Bachelet states, “shockwaves of the annexation will last for decades.” As annexation is illegal in terms of international law and is a violation of human rights, the result of backlash is expected.

In 2019, Isreal destroyed hundreds of properties in the West Bank for a lack of approved permits, many of which were owned by Palestinians who had built homes without proper licenses. Although they’ve built homes without authorization, Palestinians may only get construction approved by the Israelis. More often than not, they are denied.

The destruction of these areas can be detrimental to many individuals and any future of peace in Palestine. Palestinian refugees are offered services from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) to cater to basic needs such as education, healthcare, shelter and more. The agency defines Palestinian refugees as “persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948, and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict.”

Impact on Education

As a result of violence, many are concerned about the safety of children, educational systems and peace in Palestine. Threats of destruction complicate the route to school as students or teachers may be stopped at security checkpoints, and past violence has occurred by Israeli forces. An estimated 19,000 children were involved in the 111 different educational inference cases in the West Bank documented by the UN in 2018.

In 2018, the UNRWA endured a sizeable financial burden as a result of the American government’s decision to decrease the budget for that year. This was the most significant budget cut in history for the agency, resulting in a loss of $300 million for the year. For many, school is supposed to represent a safe and comfortable environment. As a result of the new budget, children and families worried they would not be able to return to school. This led to the UNRWA launching the Dignity is Priceless campaign, a global fundraising campaign advocating for student’s educational and health needs. The campaign’s purpose was to ensure that there would be enough funding and support to reopen the doors. It led the way for other organizations to support education funding.

Campaigns for Aid

Many organizations are standing in support of peace in Palestine, looking to help during this significant humanitarian crisis. UNICEF is working to make an impact in these communities that now lack necessities like drinking water and unsafe access to education. UNICEF’s Humanitarian Action for Children 2020 has accepted $13.7 million in funding, improving access to water for over 30,000 persons and providing water tanks to over 4,100 households. By the end of 2019, they continued to support Palestine’s education system assessing that 6,200 children safely accessed school, and 90,000 students could participate in summer activities.

For many children in Palestine, education is a want, not a given opportunity. The Rights to Education (Right2Edu) campaign strives to bring awareness to the importance of education for Palestinian children and to the hardship’s educational systems face. At the same time, there is a struggle for peace in Palestine. Right2Edu began assisting students and faculty who would be subjected to arrests of the Israeli troops and provides legal assistance to those who may have experienced an educational interference on their way to or from school. The Rights to Education’s primary mission is to pursue the human right of education for all.

The struggle for peace between the two states continues to be an uphill battle. With an emphasis on the future of children in Palestine, 3 campaigns from NGOs show their support through campaigns and field visits to continue to provide supplies and hope for those in Palestine.

Allison Lloyd
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Palestinian Refugee Camps
The first Arab-Israeli War in 1948 resulted in the mass, forced displacement of approximately 750,000 people throughout the Middle East, including in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank and Gaza. Today, over 5 million Palestinian refugees live in the region, where socio-economic issues, health conditions, food security, education and living conditions are all deteriorating, plunging refugees deeper into poverty. This article will discuss poverty in Palestinian refugee camps and what some are doing to alleviate the situation.

The Gaza Strip

There are 1.4 million Palestinian refugees in the Gaza Strip, and according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), the poverty rate increased to 53 percent by the end of 2017, from 38.8 percent in 2011. The poverty line in Palestine is at $4.60 per day to cover the minimum needs of a household, basic health care and education. Nonetheless, 656,000 people live in absolute poverty in Palestinian refugee camps in Gaza with less than $3.60 per day, which only suffices to cover food, clothing and shelter. This drastic increase in the poverty rate is due to several factors including the volatile nature of the economy due to the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Israeli blockade on land, air and sea since 2007, and the United States’ $300 million budget cut towards the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) in 2018.

Indeed, the drastic economic conditions not only increase food insecurity in Gaza due to the lack of economic access to food but also caused the average unemployment rate to rise above 50 percent in 2018, reaching one of the highest in the world. Moreover, the United States’ decision to cut $300 million from the UNRWA’s annual budget directly impacted education and schools in refugee camps. There is a shortage of staff in Gaza schools as the UNRWA and the Ministry of Education runs over two-thirds of them on double shifts, generating overcrowded schools and so impeding students’ learning and the level of education. The continuing blockade on Gaza affects health care as medical supplies are scarce and deficient, including medication for cancer and immunological diseases. All these factors have led to the impoverishment of Palestinian refugees in Gaza, leaving an estimated 80 percent dependent on international assistance.

Syria

There are 552,000 registered Palestinian refugees in Syria, however, since the start of the Syrian crisis in 2011, approximately 120,000 PRS have fled to neighboring countries like Lebanon and Jordan where they have an irregular status. The poverty rate among PRS is approximately 89 percent, including 9 percent living in extreme poverty in Palestinian refugee camps.

The UNRWA stepped up its activities in the nine official camps in Syria, as well as issued a Syria regional crisis emergency appeal in 2018 stating that 95 percent of Palestine refugees in Syria was in “critical need of sustained humanitarian assistance,” and improving PRS’ living conditions.

Lebanon

The legal restrictions that the Lebanese government imposed upon refugees combined with the country not being a signatory of the U.N. Refugee Convention (recognizing the legal obligations and basic rights of refugees), jeopardizes economic, political and social aspects of the lives of Palestinian refugees. Indeed, two-thirds (160,000 people) of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon are either poor or extremely poor, which is the highest percentage of people living in poverty in Palestinian refugee camps.

Palestinian refugees face strong discriminatory labor laws; only 2 percent have an official work permit, 75 percent earn below the national minimum wage of $200 per month and 95 percent have no health insurance. Moreover, Palestinian refugees in Lebanon do not receive full citizenship and so suffer from limited access to public services, including public schools and Lebanon’s public health system. The UNRWA provides schools and medical facilities in the country’s 12 refugee camps, however, these suffer from understaffing and limited funds, and so do not suffice to secure decent education and health care for all Palestinian refugees. Besides, the Syrian conflict caused 30,000 Palestinian refugees to move to Lebanon, adding a new dimension to the existing issue. This reinforces the declining housing conditions in the overcrowded refugee camps which lack basic infrastructures and experience continuous electrical outages.

Jordan

Jordan hosts the largest amount of Palestinian refugees in the region with over 2 million registered people. Jordan is the only host country that grants full citizenship to Palestinian refugees, integrating them more into society. However, the 158,000 Palestinian refugees coming from the Gaza strip did not receive citizenship, limiting their rights in the country and making them more prone to poverty. In addition, 17,000 Palestinian refugees left Syria and entered Jordan during the Syrian conflict, of which 30 percent were highly vulnerable, according to the UNRWA. These refugees’ irregular or uncertain legal status in Jordan as Palestinian Refugees from Syria (PRS) exposes them to an insecure environment including difficulties to access government services. UNRWA is in dire need of funding and financial assistance in order to protect the most vulnerable Palestinian refugees living in Jordan.

Conclusion

UNRWA provides cash assistance to over 400,000 Palestinian refugees in one of the largest cash programs in the world, and it has deeply affected poverty levels among Palestinian refugees. Indeed, cash assistance decreased the number of Palestinian refugees living in absolute poverty (under $2 per day) from 90 percent to 74 percent in 2017. However, the lack of financial aid and assistance limits the UNRWA’s activities in refugee camps, and the ongoing state of conflict in the region prevents significant improvements from occurring.

Andrea Duleux
Photo: Flickr

5 Development Projects in SyriaSyria, home to many diverse ethnic and religious groups, is a country that has lost hundreds of thousands of lives to war and violence. Because of this crisis, millions of people are displaced and in need of humanitarian assistance, and development projects in Syria aim to address this need.

Like many countries in the world, Syria is fighting extreme poverty. According to the United Nations Development Programme, four out of five Syrians live in poverty and 64.7 percent of the population lives in extreme poverty. The Arab region is the only region in the world where poverty has increased since 2010, rising from 28 percent in 2010 to 83.4 percent in 2015.

Here is a list of five development projects in Syria that may help relieve the nation’s citizens.

  1. Switzerland donates ambulances to Syria’s suffering population
    Switzerland financed twelve new ambulances to help the people of Syria facing the consequences of the war. Syria was in need of more ambulances as a result of the devastatingly high number of victims caused by the war, including attacks against hospitals. The vehicles were purchased through the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in Dubai. This project was completed in 2017.
  2. Contribution to UNRWA’s Programme Budget 2017-2020
    The United Nations Relief and Works Agency is one of Switzerland’s key multilateral partners in the Middle East, addressing all kinds of humanitarian aid needs, including medical services, education, emergency assistance, healthcare and more. With more funds contributed to its budget, it has been able to work toward universal access to quality primary health care, basic education, relief and social services to refugees in need. This is an ongoing project expected to be completed by 2020.
  3. Swiss experts to U.N. agencies in the frame of the regional crises in the Middle East
    Through this completed project, experts from Switzerland were able to provide technical support and advice. The experts accounted for the provision of shelter in camps and noncamp settings for vulnerable displaced persons; for a multisector and multistakeholder strategy for cash-based response for IDPs, refugees and host communities; for the protection of the most vulnerable population, including children and youth; advice and strategic planning on activities in the domain of water; and support to the coordination of humanitarian interventions within the U.N. agencies and national/international actors.
  4. Contribution to UNRWA’s General Fund 2016
    Contributions to UNRWA’s 2016 General Fund allows for the sustaining of the agency’s humanitarian and human development programs, servicing over five million Palestine refugees and contributing to peace and stability in the Middle East. This completed project targeted Palestinian refugees living in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the occupied Palestinian territory. Results included financial support enabling various programs in health and education, and management reforms including resource mobilization, ERP and more.
  5. UNDP- Livelihoods Restoration in Crisis- Affected Communities in Syria
    This completed two-year project worked on restoration interventions in Rural Damascus, Horns, Tartous and Latakia. The project created local economic opportunities and restored critical community infrastructure and services, improving access to hygiene and other basic needs.

These committed development projects in Syria leave marks of improvement and hope in a nation that has been ravaged by violence and poverty for far too long.

Julia Lee

Photo: Flickr