Roundup: UN refugee agency's Palestinian workers protest over possible service cuts due to fiscal deficit

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GAZA, July 12 (Xinhua) -- The Workers' Union of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) on Thursday protested possible reduction of the agency's services due to fiscal problems.

Hundreds of UNRWA staff workers demonstrated in front of the agency's headquarters in Gaza City, holding banners calling for halting any possible reduction in the agency's services.

They also stressed that solving the financial crisis should not be at the expense of Palestinian refugees and the UNRWA's staff.

The protesters urged the UN and donor countries to support the UNRWA's budget to avoid the risk of reducing the services and programs provided to Palestinian refugees.

Yusuf Hamdouna, an official in the union, told protesters that the union will organize an open sit-in inside the headquarters of the UN agency next week to protest any cuts in services.

The deficit in the UNRWA budget is a deliberate political action that carries risks to security and stability in the region, he said, adding that the UN and donor countries should assume their responsibilities to resolve the issue as soon as possible.

Since the beginning of this year, the UNRWA has suffered an unprecedented financial deficit in its budget, after the United States cut an aid of 300 million U.S. dollars for the agency.

The UNRWA announced on Tuesday that it managed to reduce its fiscal deficit from 446 million dollars to 217 million dollars.

"The agency's administration is making intensive efforts to bring in funding to fill the deficit in its budget, but if it fails to do so, it will take measures to reduce its services within weeks," Adnan Abu Hasna, UNRWA's media advisor, told Xinhua.

Abu Hasna explained that these cuts will affect emergency programs, including distribution of emergency food for poor refugee families and payment of rent for thousands of families whose houses were demolished during the Israeli offensive on the Gaza Strip in 2014.

The UNRWA was established by the UN General Assembly in 1949 to provide assistance and protection for some 5.4 million Palestinian refugees registered with the UNRWA across its five fields of operation.

The agency is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions and financial support has been outpaced by the growth in needs.

Its mission is to help Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip achieve their full human development potential, pending a just and lasting solution to their plight.

Meanwhile, Ahmed Abu Houli, member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), demanded the UNRWA cancel measures of cutting its services by the end of this month and laying off 956 staff workers.

These measures will not address the financial crisis and will push the region into a state of instability, Abu Houli said in a press statement.

The PLO official accused the U.S. government of exerting pressure on donor countries to keep the UNRWA crisis in place and increase the fiscal deficit in its budget.

The UNRWA previously announced that the U.S., once the largest donor to the agency, has provided just 60 million dollars of a promised 365 million dollars.

U.S. President Donald Trump said in January that the U.S. has contributed hundreds of millions of dollars to the UNRWA without getting any signs of appreciation or respect.

He also said that he will resume funds if the Palestinians agree to resume the stalled peace talks with Israel.

The ties between Palestine and the U.S. declined to an all-time low in December, when Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and ordered to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to the disputed holy city. Enditem

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