The Impact that Reduction in UNRWA Services has on the Lives of Palestinian Refugees

The Palestinian Association for Empowerment and Local Development -REFORM held a public session at the Youth Social Center at Al-Jalazoun camp to discuss the impact of the reduction in services, provided by UNRWA, on the lives of citizens in refugee camps and its reflection of the social ladder. The session also aimed to formulate suggestions and to develop community-based solutions that contribute to improving the living conditions of Palestinian refugees.

The session was attended by: the Head of the Executive Office for Refugees, Mahmoud Mubarak; the Director General of Camps in the Department of Refugee Affairs, Yaser Abu Kishek; an activist on issues of international law, Firas Karajah; groups of activists and institutions in Al-Jalazoun camp; and a number of members of the Rooftop Debate Advisory Board.

Nadim Qandil, Operations Officer at REFORM, noted that the session contributed to highlighting the effect that the US decision to reduce its support of the UNRWA had on the lives of refugees, as well as UNRWA’s struggle to continue to make improvements in its services (education, health and employment) despite the financial crisis. He emphasized the importance of unifying the work of all relevant bodies working in the camps, including officials, NGOs and the private sector in order to minimize overlapping efforts. Qandil also shed light on the importance of involving youth in an in-depth dialogue and analysis of the risks involved and to benefit from lessons learned amid attacks that threaten their identity. 

Mahmoud Mubarak, the Head of the Executive Office for Refugees, stressed that refugee camps suffer from many problems and pressures, and called on all parties, specifically official bodies, to not take any action or decisions that may negatively affect the identity of Palestinian refugees. He also urged these parties to support the refugees in all official and popular events, as well as to engage in non-for-profit activities in all Palestinian communities, inside and outside of the camps.

Furthermore, Yaser Abu Kishek, Director General of Camps in the Department of Refugee Affairs, mentioned the importance of coordinating work among departments in the camps and networking with official and international groups. This would support the establishment of a national program that contributes to the improvement of living conditions for Palestinian refugees.

Moreover, the youth participants urged the need to enhance their participation in active associations within camps as well as their role in the decision-making processes regarding their present and future.

Nizar Basalat, social activist and member of the Advisory Board of the Rooftop Debate project, pointed out the need to bring issues of refugees from villages and cities to the level of the public eye, in order to enhance the social cohesion amongst the various social components and to promote one collective identity, in which refugee issues are not issues of refugees alone, but of Palestinian society as a whole.

At the end of the session, attendees suggested to organize additional meetings and discussions among decision makers and Palestinian youth, to enhance the sense of one collective identity among refugees and non-refugees, and to involve the youth in decision-making processes that affect their lives. They also suggested to coordinate efforts amongst various groups and to mobilize grassroots movements in order to demand the rights of Palestinian refugees, organizing lobbying campaigns to put pressure on the international community to uphold their responsibilities for the lives of refugees within the camps.

Moreover, the participants stressed on the need to coordinate between competent authorities and urge them to work on the refugee issue by creating a program with clear objectives that may support activists in their work for promoting the rights of refugees. They noted that if appropriate action and programs are not implemented, the refugee issue and all related dangers within the camps may extend outside the camps and throughout Palestine on a larger scale.

This activity is part of The “Rooftop Debate – Drivers of Political Change” project aims to create a network of powerful social and political young leaders and equip them with supporting tools that enable them to create social change by directing them to find solutions to their problems and concerns, which promotes social cohesion, ensures pluralism and strengthens civil peace within society. The project also seeks to provide safe and interactive platforms that connect young activists with representatives of Government bodies and civil society organizations, in order to capacitate youth to voice out their concerns and engage in shaping public policies that are more responsive to their social and political needs.

This project is implemented in cooperation with Konrad Adenauer Foundation.