News / Middle East

    Anger, Rumors Spread as Aid Shifts for Palestinian Refugees

    The latest demonstration took place outside UNRWA’s Beirut headquarters. Earlier this month, a man self-immolated in response to the changes. (John Owens/VOA)
    The latest demonstration took place outside UNRWA’s Beirut headquarters. Earlier this month, a man self-immolated in response to the changes. (John Owens/VOA)

    As he tries to scrape funds together to treat his daughter’s life-threatening condition, Fouad Abu Khaled is fearful, not just for the future of his family, but for the entire Palestinian diaspora.

    Recent changes in medical support offered by UNRWA — the U.N. body created to support Palestinian refugees — have left him, and many other Palestinians living in Lebanon, angry and uncertain.
     
    “I’m sure they will stop the funding,” Abu Khaled told VOA, referring to the financial aid given by UNRWA to help 26-year-old Wafaa, who suffers from a hereditary blood condition called Thalassemia.
     
    “It hasn’t happened yet as we’ve not gone to the hospital, but they will,” he said, his voice rising. “And then, soon, all UNRWA services will stop.”
     
    There are many Palestinians in Lebanon who share Abu Khaled’s fears.

    Shifts, not cuts
     
    At the start of this month, UNRWA shifted the way it offers medical support for Palestinians in the country.
     
    The response was swift; and desperate.
     
    In the latest of many such protests, UNRWA’s Beirut headquarters were besieged Friday by demonstrators who believe that medical aid is set to be reduced, or wiped out entirely.
     
    Recently, Mohammad Omar Khodeir, who also suffers from Thalassemia, set himself on fire in response to the changes.
     
    UNRWA contends the changes are just that — shifts in where the cash in being spent, rather than an overall cut in the top-line budget.
     
    “We did not do this to save money,” claimed Zizette Darkazally, a spokeswoman for UNRWA in Lebanon who was equally emphatic to dismiss any fears about the imminent demise of UNRWA.
     
    She told VOA the medical aid budget for 2016 in Lebanon remained unchanged from last year at $10 million.
     
    But now funding has been shifted to offer greater support for specialist care and for those suffering long-term conditions, like cancer. Funding for medicines remains unchanged.
     
    Tensions easily stoked

     
    Many will still be hurt by the shift in funds.
     
    Palestinians who previously enjoyed free care must now pay 20 percent of costs for visits to private hospitals, 15 percent for care at government hospitals and five percent for care at hospitals run by the Palestinian Red Crescent Society.
     
    In a country where, according to UNRWA’s own figures, more than half the registered Palestinians live below the poverty line and 80 percent are unemployed, reliance on aid is high.

    The streets of Shatila, where rates of poverty are high. It is one of twelve Palestinian refugee camps around Lebanon. (John Owens/VOA)
    The streets of Shatila, where rates of poverty are high. It is one of twelve Palestinian refugee camps around Lebanon. (John Owens/VOA)


    “Palestinians in Lebanon, in particular, cannot access the labor market, or a welfare state, or a range of other services,” said Rex Brynan, professor of political sciences at the McGill University, and author of several books about Palestinian refugees.
     
    “That’s why, in Lebanon, when the UNRWA sneezes, Palestinians catch a cold,” he said.
     
    In this context, when it comes to aid, tensions are easily stoked.
     
    Darkazally argued the changes had been “misrepresented” and politicized, with rumors replacing facts as Palestinian political factions sought to drum up popularity.
     
    Abu Khaled, for one, is convinced that he will have to pay the full $200 a month to help treat his daughter’s condition, rather than the $100 he used to pay.
     
    The reality, however, is that the cost of his daughter’s treatment is likely to remain funded.

    On average, it costs $200 a month to treat Wafaa Khaded. Her Thalassemia requires regular blood donations. (John Owens/VOA)
    On average, it costs $200 a month to treat Wafaa Khaded. Her Thalassemia requires regular blood donations. (John Owens/VOA)


    The idea that some will benefit from the changes has not filtered through, Darkazally added.
     
    “People are in despair and hanging on to every word.”
     
    Growing costs
     
    A critical lack of funding for other provisions has exacerbated this despair, fueling the rumors currently swirling through the Palestinian community.
     
    Though donations to UNRWA marginally increased last year, they have not kept up with growing costs.
     
    Last year, the $100 a month cash assistance for housing the estimated 42,000 Palestinian refugees who escaped Syria for Lebanon - a system that helped Abu Khaled and his family who fled in 2012 - was cut.
     
    Shortly before the start of the school term last summer, the future of UNRWA’s extensive network of schools across the region also came under question amid a $110 million cash shortfall.
     
    The crisis was averted and the cash raised, but many Palestinians do not see it that way.
     
    Twenty-one-year-old Islam Durani heard about the change in medical funding from her friends and neighbors, though she’s unsure exactly what’s being cut.
     
    “I’m sure they have the funds,” she said, “and I’m sure they just want to put pressure on Palestinians. I can’t think of another reason,” she told VOA.
     
    A voice for the Palestinians

    Yet for all the cynicism, once the protesters take their placards home, it is upon UNRWA that many will remain dependent — a dependency that stretches well beyond the provision of day-to-day basics.
     
    “Palestinians see UNRWA as an international representative of their rights and they’re constantly worried about those rights being eroded,” said Brynan.
     
    “That’s why anything that is a deviation from the status quo is seen as an attempt to liquidate the refugee issue.”

    Protestors gathered around the entrance to UNRWA in Beirut. The posters accuse UNRWA of lying and say ‘Dignity for All’. (John Owens/VOA)
    Protestors gathered around the entrance to UNRWA in Beirut. The posters accuse UNRWA of lying and say ‘Dignity for All’. (John Owens/VOA)


    Meanwhile, Abu Khaled has vowed to keep attending the protests, and not just for the sake of his daughter.
     
    “I’m fighting for my bread, for my family,” he said. “But the bigger goal is to show people that we are human beings. No one will listen to us unless we show that we will fight for this right.”

    You May Like

    In Britain, The Sun Still Doesn’t Shine

    Invoking Spitfires and Merlin, Leave voters insist country can be great again, following surprising 'Brexit' vote last week

    Double Wave of Suicide Bombings Puts Lebanon, Refugees on Edge

    Following suicide bombings in Christian town of Al-Qaa, on Lebanon's northeast border with Syria, fears of further bombings have risen

    US Senators Warned on Zika After Failing to Pass Funding

    Zika threats and challenges, as well as issues of contraception and vaccines, spelled out as lawmakers point fingers

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Alice from: Canada
    January 24, 2016 11:34 AM
    At the time of first Arab - Israel war (1948) which was an attempt by half a dozen Arab countries to destroy the recently proclaimed State of Israel and murder all its Jewish residents there were other nations being created by the UN. In the process of the creation of those other countries such as India and Pakistan, North and South Korea, North and South Vietnam, and East and West Germany millions of people ended up as refugees yet ONLY the Palestinians got their own UN agency for refugees and ONLY the Palestinians remain 70 years and three generations later refugees! All the other millions of refugees from that period have been successfully assimilated into their new home countries. Corrupt Arab and UN leaders have created and sustained a corrupt UNRWA. It is well past time to get rid of UNRWA and tell the Palestinian leadership no more free lunch.

    by: PermReader
    January 24, 2016 8:46 AM
    Arab ligue preserves its cruel decision to use Palestinian sufferings against Israel, by banng their settlement in Arab countries. EU enemies of Israel do the same: they are ready to settle everybody becides the same Palestinians- the living weapon against Israel.

    by: Michael
    January 23, 2016 9:26 PM
    Maybe if the Palestinians stopped stabbing people there might be more jobs for them from the Israelis. Also, since their government has made every effort to prevent them for working for Israelis an attitude change might help. Clearly they will find little work in Jordan or Syria. Lebanon doesn't want them.

    Also, UNRAW, instead of helping the Palestinians, has made them entirely dependent on aid and adept at whining and demanding ever more for their surging population which has one of the highest reproductive rates in the world.

    In short, the Palestinians love to blame Israel and the world for everything but most of their problems are created by themselves.

    Instead of waging endless war, they might experiment with peace and prosperity.
    In Response

    by: Alice from: Canada
    January 24, 2016 11:41 AM
    Well said. Most of the turmoil in the Middle East is the product of radical Muslim violent fanaticism and not nationalism. It is Shiite against Sunni or Sunni against Yazidi, or Shiite and Sunni against Jew, or Alawite against Sunni, or Sunni against Christian. That includes the automaton Palestinian murders whom the 'enlightened' PA names streets, schools, and soccer fields after.

    by: Anonymous from: spain
    January 23, 2016 2:23 PM
    Arab muslim terrorists torched Joseph's shrine. They are not committed of any moral and human rights and international laws. They destroy holy places of other religions. They kill innocent people just because they are not Muslims. Free nations must fight these ruthless terrorists and defeat them.

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeasti
    X
    June 29, 2016 6:15 PM
    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeast

    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Either

    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video New US Ambassador to Somalia Faces Heavy Challenges

    The new U.S. envoy to Somalia, who was sworn into office Monday, will be the first American ambassador to that nation in 25 years. He will take up his post as Somalia faces a number of crucial issues, including insecurity, an upcoming election, and the potential closure of the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. VOA’s Jill Craig asked Somalis living in Kenya’s capital city Nairobi how they feel about the U.S. finally installing a new ambassador.
    Video

    Video At National Zoo, Captivating Animal Sculptures Illustrate Tragedy of Ocean Pollution

    The National Zoo in Washington, D.C., is home to about 1,800 animals, representing 300 species. But throughout the summer, visitors can also see other kinds of creatures there. They are larger-than-life animal sculptures that speak volumes about a global issue — the massive plastic pollution in our oceans. VOA's June Soh takes us to the zoo's special exhibit, called Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea.
    Video

    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora