AS COVID-19 continues to fuel increased hardship among the two million inhabitants of the Gaza Strip, thousands of vulnerable and orphaned refugee children living in the enclave are receiving invaluable assistance from Islamic Relief USA (IRUSA) through a generous grant to United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, said the refugee agency in a press released on Wednesday.
The contribution of $2,440,000 will enable UNRWA to extend financial and in-kind assistance to 2,873 refugee girls and boys – including 629 children living with disabilities.
This is the fifth consecutive year that IRUSA targets orphans and children with disabilities living in poverty in the Gaza Strip, providing monthly cash assistance, a generous supply of clothing, training and capacity-building and psychosocial interventions designed to protect the wellbeing and development of registered beneficiaries, said the press release.
Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, more than 68 per cent of Gaza households reported experiencing severe or moderate levels of food insecurity.
In 2020, more than 1.1 million Palestine refugees in the Strip depend on the Agency for food assistance. Since the declaration of the pandemic in March 2020, thousands of refugees have reported increased financial hardship due to government lockdowns that limit their access to jobs.
A recent study by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics showed 73 per cent of the main income earners in Gaza experienced a decrease in workload, 39 per cent of household incomes among Palestinian families declined to half or more during the lockdown period compared to February 2020.
In this context, the struggle to develop and access tailored support is even more difficult for children who are orphaned or living with disabilities.
Today, more than 10,000 orphaned children are registered with the UNRWA Orphan Programme. Of those, 83 per cent are classified as poor and 90 per cent are growing up in female-headed households.
The contribution will also protect education services for more than 500 refugees registered with the Agency’s Rehabilitation Centre for the Visually Impaired (RCVI), the only Centre of its kind in the Gaza Strip.
Since its inception in 2015, the IRUSA intervention has assisted approximately 2,400 vulnerable orphans and children with disabilities each year. IRUSA CEO Sharif Aly noted, ‘Islamic Relief USA is proud of its most recent collaboration with UNRWA, delivering critical financial assistance and a wide range of services to the most vulnerable children living in the Gaza Strip during a time of unprecedented and widespread need.
‘Through this partnership, we are able to help ensure acutely underserved groups are supported in the midst of the debilitating effects of the global pandemic.’
IRUSA was founded in 1993 and supports projects across the United States, Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Latin America. Its programmes, aimed at alleviating world poverty, range from children and orphans to women’s initiatives, food aid, livelihood, education and health.
For 70 years, UNRWA has delivered effective and reliable humanitarian support to Palestine refugees.
The Agency’s services include free health care and education, food and cash assistance and microcredit loans to 5.7 million Palestine refugees facing extreme hardship in Jordan, the Gaza Strip, Lebanon, Syria and the West Bank.
- On 13th October, Israeli military bulldozers entered about 300 metres into the Gaza Strip, and severely damaged dozens of dunums of agricultural land, destroying crops and irrigation systems.
According to the Gaza-based Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights, this is the most severe damage to Gaza farmlands caused by an Israeli military incursion since 2014.
The Gaza Ministry of Agriculture reported that at least 10 farmers’ sources of income were harmed as a result of the Israeli incursion, with damages estimated to agricultural lands and crops at more than $32,000.
In response, Gisha – Legal Centre for Freedom of Movement, Al Mezan, and Adalah – The Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel sent an urgent letter to the Israeli defence minister, attorney general, and military advocate general, demanding an immediate halt to the military’s destruction of land in the Gaza Strip, an investigation into the recent incursions, and compensation to Gaza farmers for the damage, said Adalah in a press statement.
The Israeli military has been routinely conducting ground incursions into the Gaza Strip for years. According to the United Nations, the military conducted 42 incursions into Gaza between January and 19th October of this year.
Since 2014, Israel has also been conducting aerial spraying of herbicides inside Gaza in order to clear lands and kill vegetation adjacent to the perimeter fence.
During this period, Palestinian farmers have been living in constant fear of harm to their sources of livelihood.
Israel has continued to undertake these destructive actions even on the backdrop of the global Covid-19 health crisis and related concerns for the financial situation and food security in Gaza, and in direct violation of its obligation to protect the human rights of civilians in Gaza living under its control.
In response to a request submitted by Gisha under the Freedom of Information Act, the Israeli military said previously that the incursions were required for ‘operational needs whose purpose is to protect security’.
Speaking on behalf of the three human rights organisations, Gisha Attorney Muna Haddad emphasised that such needs do not justify damage to farmland in Gaza.
‘These destructive operations violate Israeli and international law, and the Israeli military has no authority to carry them out.
‘These operations endanger farmers’ lives, bodily integrity and property, and as such, disproportionately and grievously violate their most fundamental rights, including the rights to dignity, private property and livelihood,’ said Haddad.
- Israeli forces quelled a rally marking the sixteenth anniversary of the death of the late President Yasser Arafat in Tuqu’ town, east of Bethlehem, causing a number of suffocation cases, according to a local municipal source.
Tuqu’ Mayor Tayseer Aby Mifreh said that the students of the local boys’ school organised a rally for Arafat, who died in Paris on November 11, 2004 and was flown back to Ramallah for burial.
Israeli troops cracked down on the rally, which set off from the school, in an attempt to disperse it, causing a number of students to suffer from tear gas suffocation.
All students and teachers were evacuated from the school campus, which was surrounded by Israeli soldiers.
Gatherings commemorating the anniversary of Arafat’s death took place on Wednesday across various parts of the occupied territories, with a major rally held at the Arafat Mausoleum, though attendance was limited due to the Covid-19 outbreak.
Fatah spokesman Munir Jaghoub said that due to the coronavirus pandemic, this year’s rally abided by the regulations of the Ministry of Health.
- The Commissioner General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, Philippe Lazzarini, made his first official visit to Syria on 26th-29th October 2020, according to an UNRWA press release.
During his visit, he held meetings with a number of Syrian government officials, including Faisal Miqdad, the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates, Salwa al-Abdallah, the Minister of Social Affairs and Labour, and Ali Mustafa, the Director General of the General Authority for Palestinian Arab Refugees (GAPAR). Lazzarini visited the Sbeineh and Yarmouk camps for Palestine refugees in Damascus to take a closer look at their situation and at the services that UNRWA provides within a context of the protracted crisis.
After nine years of war, which has caused extensive casualties, large-scale and protracted displacement and the destruction of civilian infrastructure, Syria is now facing an economic meltdown, fuelled by conflict-related hyper-inflation and the plummeting of the Syrian pound. Prices of basic commodities, including bread, have skyrocketed and people are forced to queue for bread as this subsidised commodity is rationed.
Ninety per cent of Palestine refugees in Syria live in poverty and 40 per cent remain in protracted displacement. Their hardship has been exponentially exacerbated through the imposition of sanctions and the rapid spread of Covid-19 in refugee communities. Their resilience is at breaking point, said UNRWA.
‘Nothing prepares one for the immense destruction that I saw in Yarmouk,’ said Lazzarini. ‘The sight of children waiting for an UNRWA bus in the midst of rubble and maybe unexploded ordinances that could take away their lives at any moment is surreal.’
In his meetings with senior government officials, Lazzarini discussed the massive needs of Palestine refugees and the huge impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on their health and economic conditions.
In Sbeineh, the Commissioner General visited UNRWA installations including a health Centre and a school, where he met members of the school parliament. The refugees explained to the Commissioner General the daily hardship of displacement and poverty, made worse by years of conflict that saw prices of basic goods soar to the point of making most of them unaffordable, as the value of the Syria pound collapsed.
The representatives of the school parliament briefed Lazzarini on the preventative measures taken in the school to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and the challenges of switching to online classes in the era of Covid-19. For most Palestine refugees in Syria, online education is a luxury that they cannot afford, with frequent power cuts, uneven internet coverage and absence of electronic devices in extremely vulnerable households. ‘We are committed to ensure that you will be able to continue your education in a safe and healthy environment and make up for the knowledge and skills that may have been lost,’ Lazzarini told the student.
Yarmouk camp, once home to 160,000 Palestine refugees, suffered devastating destruction because of intense fighting that decimated most of the camp’s buildings. An UNRWA mobile health clinic delivers services to Palestine refugees once a week. Some 430 families who have returned to Yarmouk in the last few months say they had no option because they cannot afford to rent homes after several years of displacement. Their children go to the nearby al-Zahera schools in Damascus using buses provided by UNRWA.
Seventy-five per cent of the Agency’s 23 premises, including 16 schools, need to be completely rebuilt and all three of the Agency’s health centres in Yarmouk are destroyed. UNRWA will carefully monitor the needs of Palestine refugees who return to their homes in Yarmouk camp and will assess the most effective way of providing critical services to them.
During his stay in Damascus, the Commissioner General met UNRWA student Israa al-Rifai at an award ceremony to honour her achievements in scoring full marks in the 9th grade national exam.
‘I am very proud to present an award to Israa and express my appreciation for her hard work. Despite the harsh living conditions and severity of the displacement compounded with Covid-19, you have demonstrated exceptional determination to keep studying,’ said Lazzarini, as he handed her a reward from the Agency. He also praised the teaching staff for working tirelessly to provide quality education and supporting Israa amid Covid-19.