Photo Credit: Jean & Nathalie via Flickr
The entrance to an UNRWA camp, adorned by the symbolic key promising The Right of Return to Israel

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) has terminated the employment of more than 100 staff members in its facilities in Jordan, according to Jordanian newspaper Al-Ghad. Out of a total of 2 million “refugees” registered with UNRWA, some 350,000 reside in 13 camps across Jordan.

The massive layoffs are a result of the financial impasse inflicted by the US administration’s refusal to transfer funds to the UN agency, Al-Ghad reported. UNRWA staff have been reducing services, and plan a January 21 sit-in in front of the US Embassy in Amman.

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Sources familiar with UNRWA told Al-Ghad that the agency’s administration “has decided to terminate services to its Palestinian refugees, including schools and clinics.” UNRWA is apparently already facing a $174 million deficit since the beginning of 2018, due to Washington’s withholding its donations to its operating budget.

The United States is currently withholding its entire estimated annual assistance of $370 million, being the Agency’s largest donor. The Trump administration’s reluctance to transfer $125 million of that amount, which is due this month, is adding to UNRWA’s ongoing financial distress, since the agency has been dragging a deficit of about $49 million from 2017.

The same sources added that the agency’s move “covers all 13 camps distributed throughout the Kingdom,” citing a letter sent on Monday by the Director of Operations of UNRWA in Jordan, and discussion during an emergency meeting held on Sunday in Amman and chaired by the Commissioner-General of UNRWA, Pierre Krineball, and the directors of operations of the five UNRWA regions—Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Judea and Samaria, and the Gaza Strip.

The cuts include, “30 workers in Al Baqa’a camp out of 92, 14 workers in Al Wihdat camp out of 39, 7 workers in Irbid camp out of 17, 7 workers in Husn camp out of 22, 8 workers in Gaza camp out of 22, 3 workers in Sowf camp out of 15, and 17 workers in Marqa camp out of 40.”

All of the employees in question are themselves defined as “refugees,” according to the unique UNRWA yardstick which assigns refugee status to people living where they were born.

The sources noted that UNRWA’s austerity measures include the suspension of all appointments with medical specialists, suspension of all medical consulting contracts, suspension of fixed-term employment contracts, installation contracts and special short contracts, and reliance on available financial resources only in purchase orders for goods, capital expenditures, operating expenses, or service purchase orders.

UNRWA has also decided to suspend training and workshops, and eliminate all overtime pay to its estimated 30,000 employees. There is also a hiring freeze on new employees, including temps.

UNRWA’s labor union, for its part, has issued a statement Monday rejecting “the measures to reduce the services currently taken by the administration of the Agency, which adversely affect the Palestinian refugees, and affects the status of the Agency and its role in preserving the identity of the Palestinian refugee and his right to return to his homeland.”

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