Report-Gaza UNWRA Visit

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Phil McCullough observes UNWRA food distribution area delivering sacks of  flour to local families in Refugee Camps

Phil McCullough observes UNWRA food distribution area delivering sacks of flour to local families in Refugee Camps

Phil McCullough is a lifelong Irish Republican Activist in West Belfast. A former political prisoner, Phil now does voluntary work with Coiste na nLarchimi. In 2011 he took part in the Freedom Flotilla II and was a passenger on the MV Saoirse, Irish Ship to Gaza. The boat was captured in route to Gaza and boarded by the IOF Navy. As a result, Phil spent a week in Givon prison, in Israel, before being released back to Ireland. Phil was a delegate of the recent Irish Friends of Palestine Freedom & Friendship Delegation to Gaza, November 2012. Phil writes his thoughts below on a meeting he and others attended at UNWRA in Gaza.

UNWRA VISIT, GAZA, NOVEMBER 2012

Because of the Israeli aggression and war against the people of Gaza in November 2012, we, the Irish Friends Of Palestine Group were forced to abandon our mission to Gaza at the request of our Palestinian hosts until after the ceasefire. A few days into the cessation we were on our way to Gaza. Our agenda was indeed a hefty one. Early morning starts and late evening endings. One of our designated tasks was the meeting of the UNITED NATIONS WELFARE RELIEF AGENCY. or the UNWRA for a background on their work in Gaza and then onwards to visit a refugee UNWRA food distribution centre and a destroyed UNWRA school. Now I have many, many, difficulties with the UN worldwide but it has to be honestly stated that what they are undertaking here in Gaza and their performance and impact here is tremendous.

UNWRA Deputy Director addresses members of Irish Delegation and European Delegation.

Almost 1.1 million citizens of Gaza out of a total population of 1.7 million inhabitants depend on the UNWRA relief programme and that is more than three quarters of the Gaza population. The UNWRA headquarters compound in Gaza is like a fortification with gun posts at its corners and main gates. This is a necessity due to the ongoing aggression by the Israelis. Our bus drove into the HQ compound past wary armed guards. The deputy director of the UNWRA mission Mr.Scott Anderson, along with his assistant they delivered a very detailed and comprehensive update in relation to their ongoing work and mission in Gaza. After a very interesting two hour meeting and a discussion with the UNWRA team, our delegation departed from the HQ compound and were escorted by UN vehicles through Gaza city heading to the Jabilia refugee camp. As we passed through this impoverished camp of Jabalia , it stood as a testimony to the recent violence which ravished the poor place. Thousands of bullet holes in the walls of the shacks people call home, and the ruins of demolished buildings that had been blasted to pieces, along with their inhabitants, by Israeli F16 war planes.

Surrounding areas and buildings next to UNWRA facility were bombed and destroyed causing damage to the UNWRA facility as well

Surrounding areas and buildings next to UNWRA facility were bombed and destroyed causing damage to the UNWRA facility as well

Jabilia is the largest of eight refugee camps established after the illegal “carve up” of Palestine in 1948. Our convoy drove slowly through the blue gates of the UNWRA food distribution centre. This UN food centre was like many other UN buildings in Gaza targeted by the Zionists and was damaged by air bombardment only days before. The rubble of a large bombed building lay alongside the food distribution warehouse. As we were shown around this old large warehouse we watched closely as the young , the elderly, and even some with horse and cart, all queued up for their three monthly allocation of food assistance. Mountains of large white sacks full of vital flour appeared to be the main stock here. Those Palestinians who have registered for aid with the UNWRA food distribution centre are given an allocation of dried dates ,flour, tinned fish, cooking oil and bread. This does not fulfill all of their nutritional requirements, but it is a vital part of their meagre diet.

UNWRA Facility

Of all the projects that we were invited to visit and meet during our mission to Gaza, for me perhaps the UNWRA operation was the most interesting and informative. Not only is the UNWRA involved deeply with the food relief programme for the people of Gaza but they are involved with just about all aspects of the life and relief of Gaza. They build schools, hospitals, clinics, medical centres. And they supply employment for thousands of Palestinians. Much of their fantastic work has been repeatedly bombed and destroyed by the Israelis over the many years of aggression. But the UNWRA keeps bouncing back. Indeed a job well done by the UN for a change.

ADDITIONAL INFO ON ALL 8 GAZA REFUGEE CAMPS DEPENDANT ON ASSISTANCE FROM UNWRA:

Location map of all eight refugee camps in the Gaza Strip.

BEACH CAMP (AKA SHATI CAMP) The third largest of the Gaza Strip’s eight refugee camps – and one of the most crowded – Beach camp is known locally as “Shati”. The camp is on the Mediterranean coast in the Gaza City area. In the camp, 90 per cent of the water is unfit for human consumption.

Statistics

• More than 87,000 registered refugees
• 16 school buildings running on double shifts to accommodate 32 schools. UNRWA also uses a Palestinian Authority school building for one school in the afternoon.
• One food distribution centre
• One health centre

BUREIJ CAMP is a comparatively small refugee camp located in the middle of the Gaza Strip. The camp is near Maghazi and Nuseirat refugee camps. In the camp, 90 per cent of the water is unfit for human consumption.

Statistics

• Over 34,000 registered refugees
• Seven school buildings, four of which run on a double-shift basis, accommodating 11 schools, four running on double shifts
• One food distribution centre
• One health centre

DEIR-EL-BALAH CAMP is the smallest refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. It is located on the Mediterranean coast, west of a town of the same name, in central Gaza. Deir al-Balah means “Monastery of the Dates”, a reference to the abundant date palm groves in the area. 90 per cent of the water is unfit for human consumption.

Statistics

• More than 21,000 registered refugees
• Five school buildings, all of which operate on a double-shift basis, accommodating 10 schools
• One food distribution centre, shared with Maghazi camp
• One health centre

JABALIA CAMP is the largest of the Gaza Strip’s eight refugee camps. It is located north of Gaza City, close to a village of the same name. 90 per cent of the water is unfit for human consumption.

Statistics

• Nearly 110,000 registered refugees
• 20 school buildings, all running on double-shifts accommodating 40 schools.
• One food distribution centre
• One health centre

KHAN YOUNIS CAMP refugee camp lies west of the town of Khan Younis, a major commercial centre and stop-off point on the ancient trade route to Egypt. 90 per cent of the water is unfit for human consumption.

Statistics

• Nearly 72,000 registered refugees
• 25 school buildings, 22 running double-shifts, accommodating a total of 38 schools
• One food distribution centre
• Three health centres

MAGHAZI CAMP is located in the centre of the Gaza Strip, south of Bureij camp. It was established in 1949 and is one of the smaller camps in Gaza, both in terms of size and population. 90 per cent of the water is unfit for human consumption.

Statistics

• Just under 24,000 registered refugees
• Seven schools, three running on double shifts
• One food distribution centre
• One health centre

NUSEIRAT CAMP is currently home to more than 66,000 refugees. Set in the middle of the Gaza Strip, Nuseirat is very near Bureij and Maghazi camps. 90 per cent of the water is unfit for human consumption.

Statistics

• More than 66,000 registered refugees
• 11 school buildings, of which 9 operate on a double-shift basis, accommodating 20 schools
• One food distribution centre
• Two health centres

RAFAH CAMP established in 1949, is located in the south of Gaza, near the Egyptian border. In the year after Rafah camp was created, thousands of refugees moved from the camp to a nearby housing project at Tel El-Sultan, making the camp almost indistinguishable from the adjacent city. 90 per cent of the water is unfit for human consumption.

Statistics

• More than 104,000 registered refugees
• 25 school buildings, 17 operating on double-shifts, to accommodate 42 schools in total
• One food distribution centre
• One health centre

Deplorable conditions, people in Refugee camps depend on UNWRA to survive

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