UNRWA cuts trigger self-immolation, protests in Lebanon refugee camps

UNRWA cuts trigger self-immolation, protests in Lebanon refugee camps
2 min read
14 January, 2016
Planned cuts by UN refugee agency to its medical services in Lebanon's refugee camps has caused uproar among Palestinians, whose leaders are planning major protests to pressure UNRWA.
UNRWA has recently gone from crisis to crisis, causing great harm to Palestinian refugees [AFP]
There have been mounting protests by Palestinian refugees in Lebanon over aid cuts by UNRWA, the agency in charge of Palestinian refugee affairs, prompting UNRWA's Lebanon Director-General Matthias Schmale to cut short his visit to Germany and return to Beirut on Wednesday. 

Palestinian refugees had escalated their protests against the cuts in camps across Lebanon in the past three days.

Meanwhile, Palestinian factions called for rallies near UNRWA's offices on Friday.

Protesters closed the office of UNRWA's director in the refugee camp of Ain al-Hilweh in southern Lebanon along with clinics and schools operated by the agency.

The strike in camps came a day after a 23-year-old man, named as Omar Khudeir, self-immolated outside a clinic in protest of the cuts in the Burj al-Shemali camp in Tyre, southern Lebanon. 

Cutting services by UNRWA is a political decision and part of a conspiracy against the refugees
—Islamic Jihad representative

UNRWA has been struggling with severe financial difficulties, as donor countries cut their contributions.

Funding shortages put the school year at risk in early September across the region. Now, the lack of money has forced new rules concerning funding of healthcare.

Under the new arrangement, every Palestinian refugee receiving medical services or hospitalisation through UNRWA must pay parts of the medical bills.

Previously, UNRWA covered all expenses.

Representatives of various Palestinian factions discussed in a meeting at the Palestinian Embassy in Beirut plans to pressure UNRWA to reverse its decision, according to Lebanon's English-language daily The Daily Star.

A statement issued after the meeting stressed the right of Palestinian people to aid, particularly full health and education coverage. They called for a high turnout during planned protests near the offices of UNRWA on Friday.

Even Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad has weighed in on the crisis. Abu Imad al-Rifai, the group's representative in Lebanon, said Islamic Jihad fully supports the protests in Lebanon's camps against UNRWA's cuts.

"Cutting services by UNRWA is a political decision and part of a conspiracy against the refugees," claimed Rifai.

Rifai said the protests would escalate in the coming days, and called on donor and host countries to shoulder their responsibilities and pressure UNRWA to fulfill its obligations to the refugees.

There are 12 officially recognised Palestinian camps scattered across Lebanon that are home to around 450,000 refugees, roughly 10 percent of Lebanon's population.