Palestinians living in eight refugee camps in the besieged Gaza strip staged demonstrations in front of various supply offices of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) on Sunday, February 21 to protest against the agency’s decision to get rid of poverty classifications on food aid, WAFA news agency reported.
The move, along with decision to scrap the earlier two-coupon system and replace it with a single coupon system, is expected to have a direct adverse impact on the humanitarian food aid being supplied by the agency to Palestinians with lower levels of income. According to the report, hundreds of Palestinian refugees participated in the protest vigils to reject the UNRWA’s decision and called for its reversal.
Protesters chanted slogans against the move, with many carrying symbolic empty bags of flour and milk. and banging on empty pots. The Gaza strip already suffers from chronic shortages of food, water, electricity and other essential supplies as a result of the longstanding Israeli air, sea and land blockade and the severe restrictions placed by Israel and Egypt on the supply and delivery of essential goods and items to the strip.
The United Nations, as well as several international human rights organizations, have in the past repeatedly raised concerns over the shortage of supplies, especially medical supplies, in the Gaza strip. They have also warned of the risks of famine, malnutrition and disease, and urged the international community to take action to address these humanitarian issues. Over the years, strong appeals have been made to the state of Israel to lift its illegal, debilitating blockade of the Gaza strip. Rights groups have noted that the blockade is the root cause of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, because of which thousands of Palestinians are being forced to live as refugees and depend on international humanitarian assistance for their daily survival.
The refugee affairs department of the Palestine Liberation Organization, in coordination with its popular committees in the eight refugee camps, had issued a call to the people to participate in the demonstrations against the UNRWA’s decision in large numbers. The vigils outside the UN offices also saw the attendance of several leaders and representatives of the various Palestinian political factions, civil society groups and the refugee camps.
In a joint statement, the popular committees demanded that the UNRWA reverse its decision to cancel the poverty classifications and go back to the earlier two-coupon system instead of the newly introduced one-coupon unified system for all Palestinian refugees regardless of their income levels.
The number of Palestinian refugees who are classified as being under the extreme poverty line in Gaza is currently estimated to be approximately 770,000. Activists have highlighted that they require assistance and subsidized rations from agencies such as the UNRWA as they would be unable to afford the higher costs under a unified coupon system due to their current income and economic conditions.