Feature: Palestinian refugee children fear to play outdoors as tear gas lingers on

0 Comment(s)Print E-mail Xinhua, April 29, 2018
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BETHLEHEM, West Bank, April 29 (Xinhua) -- Only a few children went outdoors to the only playground available in the Aida refugee camp in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, where the tear gas thrown by the Israeli forces still lingers on around the tiny camp.

Aida refugee camp, hosting around 3,150 Palestinian refugees, is backed by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), and is surrounded by the Israeli-built wall and six watch towers.

It is located between Bethlehem and Jerusalem and is close to two large Israeli settlements, leaving it vulnerable to the constant clashes between the Palestinians and the Israeli soldiers.

According to a study published by the U.S. Berkeley University, all the refugees in the camp are exposed to tear gas that is thrown by Israeli soldiers towards the camp two to three times a week, without a direct correlation to security tensions or demonstrations in the camp.

The research raised serious concerns over the physical and psychological impact of the gas used against Palestinians.

"What we see is that tear gas sometimes lingers for two to three days after an event and we are worried about the long-term chronic health impact this could have on the residents of the camp," said UNRWA's Director of Operations Scott Anderson.

The only playground in the camp was set up and funded by the UNRWA year ago, to provide the refugee children with a place to develop their interests and have fun.

"We found that for so many times, some children do not feel safe to come to the playground because the soldiers often throw tear gas at them," said Isra' Abu Sroor, who is in charge of the center's financial and administrative affairs.

Two years ago, a child was killed near the camp, after which many parents stopped sending their children to the playground due to safety concerns, added Sroor.

According to the U.S. study, tear gas may cause health risks as well as psychological impacts such as post-traumatic stress disorder, sleep disruption, acute stress responses, hyper arousal and a general feeling of lack of safety.

While the issue is becoming a growing concern for UNRWA, the agency is still suffering a serious financial gap of nearly 200 million U.S. dollars, which threatens the fundamental services it offers to the refugees.

Anderson warned of the lack of fundings to the UNRWA that were used to provide daily basic services that refugees depend on, including education and healthcare.

"The global support to our operation is deeply encouraging, including the recent unprecedented support from the Gulf countries... and the increasing support we get from the BRICS (China, India, Russia, Brazil and South Africa)," said UNRWA Spokesperson Christopher Gunness.

"We hope China will become a strategic ally of UNRWA," he said. "Given China's rapid development and its experience in lifting so many of its people out of poverty, the agency feels there is much we can learn from a partnership with China."

China contributed 350,000 U.S. dollars to the UNRWA in 2015, according to figures provided by the agency.

The UNRWA has over 700 schools hosting almost 525,000 children and offer healthcare to some 3.5 million refugees through a network of 150 clinics.

In addition, the agency's food and cash assistance program offers some 1.7 million U.S. dollars to extremely vulnerable refugees.

Throughout the region, UNRWA serves a total of some 5.3 million Palestinian refugees.

In the beginning of this year, the United States cut down its funding to UNRWA from 125 million dollars to 65 million dollars.

Palestinian officials said that the U.S. move to reduce its aid to UNRWA was in line with the new policy of U.S. President Donald Trump to ignore the final issues of the peace process, which is reflected by his removal of the issues of Jerusalem and the refugees "off the table." Enditem

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