The Global Palestinian Refugees and Displaced Persons Network (GPRN), comprised of 42 active organizations and popular committees in Palestine with its mandatory borders, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria, calls upon the UNRWA Commissioner-General, Philippe Lazzarini, to respect and fulfill the Arab Staff Union's demands because they are an essential pillar in the strategy of protecting and preserving UNRWA.
The GPRN, while following the discussion between UNRWA and the Arab Staff Union (ASU), and appreciating the efforts of the ASU on behalf of its members and their rights, recognizes that UNRWA has adopted a policy of not listening and not responding to the ASU's repeated demands. Furthermore, pushing the refugee community to blame the staff for not receiving services is a grave mistake. The escalation of the political and security context in Palestine and the region, and/or the lack of budget have become the default justifications for not meeting the just demands of the ASU, the reduction of quantity and quality of services to Palestinian refugees, and other measures that detrimentally impact their rights. And this is unacceptable because upholding the rights of employees, particularly UNRWA staff, goes hand in hand with protecting UNRWA and upholding its mandate.
Within this context, the GRPN stresses the following points:
- The demands of the ASU-West Bank are legitimate and deserved, as they are fully consistent with the previous agreements and commitments that were concluded during the last ten years but were not implemented. The demands of the labor union are not charity, luxury or privilege, but rather, in their entirety, constitute the minimum requirements to ensure a decent life.
- Imposing the burden of the financial crisis that UNRWA has been facing for years on the Palestinian staff is no different in essence from the policy of forcing refugees to accept the reduction in services. UNRWA cannot continue to use the lack of the general budget as an excuse to ignore or evade the employees’ benefits and right to a decent standard of living like their peers. Transferring the responsibility of UNRWA’s financial predicament to its Palestinian employees is unacceptable and once again constitutes the failure of the international community to fulfill its responsibilities towards UNRWA and the rights and needs of the Palestinian refugee population. Ultimately, this approach threatens to destroy UNRWA from within.
- Under the pretext of preserving UNRWA and its associated impunity as an international agency, the Agency cannot dismiss or ignore the demands and steps taken by the ASU-West Bank in demand of their rights and the relevant laws (local and international) that should be respected.
- Supporting the ASU in its legitimate struggle does not constitute a threat to UNRWA, and meeting the ASU's demands constitutes a shield for UNRWA in the face of campaigns targeting its existence and the refugee issue and their rights.
Accordingly, the GPRN stands by the ASU-West Bank’s legitimate steps (including the strike), and in cooperation with a number of local and international institutions, networks, and bodies, the GPRN is discussing actions to support the ASU in its struggle. Protecting UNRWA includes protecting the rights of UNRWA’s Palestinian employees. Violating the rights of employees falls within the same goals of the policy of reducing services, imposing control and security restrictions on employees who are eligible to benefit from UNRWA services, manipulating curricula and their contents and transferring UNRWA’s responsibilities to other agencies or states. Hence, the ASU’s struggle is part of the political battle over the existence of UNRWA and its mandate, which requires concerted national and international efforts to achieve justice for the staff and push the international community to fulfill its responsibilities to Palestinian refugees.