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Refugee official challenges UNRWA over layoffs

Dec. 16, 2012 11:04 A.M. (Updated: Dec. 17, 2012 3:29 P.M.)
RAMALLAH (Ma’an) -- After protests at the offices of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees in the West Bank this week, the refugee camps' spokesman disputed UNRWA's insistence that it would not cut core services.

The demonstrations were sparked by the dismissal of dozens of UNRWA employees, with refugee representatives warning this was the first stage in withdrawing services to Palestinian refugees.

UNRWA on Friday insisted that its "top priority continues to be the delivery of core services to Palestine refugees. There has been no change in UNRWA’s mandate."

The UN agency explained that 114 employees were being laid off at the end of the year as a last resort after a reduction in donor funding.

While acknowledging the right to protest, UNRWA said it was "concerned about any action that might hinder the safety and security of our staff and facilities and/or to a disruption of our services. The impact of such actions, ultimately, will only affect the refugees."

On Saturday, spokesman of Palestinian refugee camps in the West Bank Imad Abu Sunbul said UNRWA had reduced services to refugees and claims to the contrary were "nonsense".

For example, he said, UNRWA has stopped recruiting waste collection workers, and covering the cost of ear, nose and throat surgeries.

He also criticized the agency for what he called a disparity between the layoffs and the top pay grades of international and Arab staff.

"We challenge the UNRWA to publicly announce the salaries and privileges the agency pays to the high-ranking foreign and Arab employees," he said.

"Instead of dismissing employees, they should have cut five percent or even less of the salaries and privileges of the high-ranking employees, which would have saved them hundreds of thousands of dollars."

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