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UNRWA official warns of 'increasing frustration' in Gaza Strip

Oct. 17, 2016 5:32 P.M. (Updated: Oct. 17, 2016 6:37 P.M.)
GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- The director of operations for United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) in the Gaza Strip, Bo Schack, warned on Monday of what he described as increasing desperation, frustration, and the absence of opportunities in the besieged coastal enclave.

In a news conference held in UNRWA's headquarter in Gaza City, Schack said that the UN agency dedicated to helping Palestinian refugees was working hard to try to overcome a $70-million budget deficit.

He added that the ongoing Israeli blockade and restrictions on movement were preventing improvements in the Gaza Strip, notably mentioning that "Israel hasn't yet approved a list of names of Gaza citizens submitted in May 2015 whose houses have been damaged during Israeli military offensives and need construction."

The near decade-long Israeli blockade has plunged the Gaza Strip’s more than 1.8 million Palestinians into extreme poverty, and some of the highest unemployment rates in the world.

Gaza's infrastructure has yet to recover from the devastation of three Israeli offensives over the past six years. The slow and sometimes stagnant reconstruction of the besieged coastal enclave has only been worsened by the blockade, leading the UN in September to warn that Gaza could be “uninhabitable” by 2020.

In spite of severe funding shortages, Schack said that the international organization hadn't reduced its services to Palestinian refugees.

"UNRWA is exerting huge efforts in Gaza and there have been no reductions in services at all," Schack said.

He added that UNRWA had built 24 new schools since January and was employing 400 new school teachers, and claimed that one million Palestinians benefitted from UNRWA programs in Gaza in 2016.

Schack said that the total number of UNRWA employees had increased, in an allusion to accusations by the UNRWA employees union that the United Nations agency was deliberately keeping positions unfilled as a cost-cutting measure.

Schack said that discussions were ongoing between UNRWA and the union in the wake of a number of short-term strikes, adding that "all problems would be solved through dialogue to make sure services to refugees are not hurt due to any dispute."
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