Written by: Murad Al Sabi
The suffering of refugees in the West Bank camps is increasing without paying attention to the deteriorating health conditions and the lack or absence of services. This is alongside the forced absence of students from schools due to the three-month strike of the Arab Workers Union in the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). The situation is a result of the bitter dispute in Jerusalem with the UNRWA management in order to achieve their demands.
Whatever these demands may be, whether UNRWA responds to them despite the difficult circumstances it is facing or if a compromise is reached that satisfies all parties, it enhances the UNRWA employees’ roles in providing services to refugee camps, which is a profound task. In light of the international predation of this issue, which troubles parties as it remains existing, the national dream awaits. Those who were forcibly displaced in 1948 and participate in the temporary waiting station is the mission of UNRWA. It was established by the international community to protect the rights of refugees and provide them with a decent life and to respond to their needs in the face of continuous and growing demand. This is due to demographic expansion in narrow spaces that are represented by the camp corridors and the inability to horizontally or vertically expand.
Since the workers' strike in the UNRWA agency began, around 45,000 students have been prevented from attending their schools. 24 medical clinics have been closed, which deprive many individuals in the camps of their need for continuous medical care, including pregnant women and elderly people who are in urgent need of medication. They cannot afford any treatment from the private sector due to its high prices.
In addition to the existence of 19 health points that provide emergency healthcare services at specific times, usually located in remote areas and outskirts of cities where refugee camps are located, refugees cannot access necessary care. The idea of establishing medical points within the camp has been an ideal model to address this problem. These points provide the camp residents with a package of basic healthcare services.
Even in normal circumstances, before the start of the UNRWA employees' strike, the healthcare sector in the camps faced a complex set of challenges that hindered refugees' access to physical and mental healthcare services. This puts the lives of millions of innocent people at risk in 19 refugee camps in the West Bank. According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, this accounts for approximately one and a half million refugees.
It does not end there. Poor living conditions, lack of food resources, general hygiene and population density exacerbate the extent of refugees’ suffering.
You can imagine the situation when these medical centres are completely closed off from meeting the needs of refugees in all the camps due to the ongoing strike and the lack of response from UNRWA management to the demands of its workers. They are an integral part of UNRWA's humanitarian mission towards the refugee cause.
We visited some camps, including Al-Arroub, Al-Fawwar, Al-Amari and Jalazone. While visiting, we witnessed vast areas of piled-up waste bags in front of the camp entrances, which pose a health hazard and can lead to diseases and epidemics. This is not a danger only within the camps but also in the surrounding villages and cities due to the absence of participating sanitation workers during this strike.
Having students be absent from their schools for three months contributes to a wide process of ignorance and causes a wide educational gap, including the absence of information and culture that students should learn at a certain stage. Moreover, there is a psychological factor where students lose their desire to return to school due to their forced absence during a time that is not typically part of their school annual vacation. This increases the dropout rate and reduces the desire for learning. We have witnessed this in government schools during their strike, which is a prime example.
Ensuring education is also part of UNRWA's duties to create an educated and aware generation that works to enhance national defence capabilities and establish the concept of knowledge as a strategic tool. Education is important to establish a decent living well before it can become a path for liberation and independence. Current UNRWA responsibilities should also address all the tragedies that afflict the camps and their inhabitants under the pressure of the labour dispute being waged by involved parties. A solution must be reached to guarantee the continuity of UNRWA's mission while considering any attempts made on them to neutralise UNRWA's role and its relationship with the refugees. Additionally, the official role that the Department of Refugee Affairs in the Palestine Liberation Organisation should play is to maintain the purity and temporary stability of the camps on the path of return by intervening with the United Nations committee as a mediator and asserting its need within the United Nations. This will contribute to resolving this crisis and reactivate the role of the camps to express their recurring and increasing needs.
With all these events and the continued strike for more than 100 days, humans in the refugee camps, like all other Palestinians and people around the world in different corners of the earth, have the right, as guaranteed by divine laws, the Palestinian Basic Law, international law, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and various international conventions and treaties, to education, health, life and a dignified life with all their rights as human beings. Therefore, it is necessary to stop this tragedy that adds to the extensive record of tragedies suffered by Palestinian refugees in order to enhance the citizens’ ability to access various services.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's views and not necessarily the Association's or donor's opinion.