Protests loom as cash-strapped UN agency cuts back on salaries

Protests loom as cash-strapped UN agency cuts back on salaries
UNRWA was established to provide assistance and protection to around six million Palestinian refugees. (File: Reuters)
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Updated 03 January 2021

Protests loom as cash-strapped UN agency cuts back on salaries

Protests loom as cash-strapped UN agency cuts back on salaries
  • Body needs $40m to pay staff and provide basic services

GAZA CITY: Workers have threatened to protest a decision by a cash-strapped UN agency to cut back on wages.

A spokeswoman for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) Tamara Al-Rifai said that about 80 percent of employees’ salaries were available for December. UNRWA would pay last month’s salaries in the middle of this week but, she added, “the full amount was not available.”

Unions representing the agency’s workers have refused to cover part of the salaries owed and threatened to protest the step. The agency delayed paying the November salaries of 28,000 employees by about 10 days.

Deputy head of the Arab Staff Union in UNRWA in Gaza, Abdul Aziz Abu Sweireh, said: “We refused to split the salary, because it is a right, so that it does not turn into a permanent policy that affects our rights.”

UNRWA announced in mid-November that it needed $40 million to pay its employees and provide direct basic services, especially in Syria and the Gaza Strip.

It provides assistance to Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, and its services include education, health care, relief and social services, infrastructure, camp improvement, protection and microfinance.

Abu Sweireh said that UNRWA Commissioner-General Philip Lazzarini sent a message to staff last Thursday. It said: “The intensive efforts made over the past two days have resulted in our donors agreeing, exceptionally, to employ funds that were earmarked for purposes outside the program budget to enable UNRWA to pay salaries for the month of December, with the requirement that the amount be paid with the first payments that reach the agency at the beginning of 2021.”

Lazarini said in his letter that the measure was a “temporary solution to the financial crisis” and stressed that it would emerge again at the beginning of the new year if UNRWA did not receive sufficient financial resources.

Abu Sweireh told Arab News that the director of UNRWA operations in Gaza told them that the salary crisis would continue for two or three months until the international conference called by the UN agency was held, which is expected in April.

He believed the crisis was political not financial, and that there were countries that were working to “liquidate” UNRWA.

“We are very concerned about the recurrence of these crises over the past two years, and we do not feel job security, in addition to the danger threatening the lives of millions who are associated with financial and relief assistance from UNRWA.”

UNRWA was established as a UN agency by a General Assembly resolution in 1949. It is mandated to provide assistance and protection to around six million Palestinian refugees.

It launched an appeal in November for immediate support to enable it to “bridge the current deficit gap” and work on a longer plan covering the next two years based on multi-year funding instead of annual funding.

It said that the budget for its services in 2021 was similar to the budget of last year - $1.4 billion - but there had been great difficulty in mobilizing the financial resources for it, leading to a “dangerous financial situation.”

The coronavirus outbreak piled more pressure on UNRWA, but its financial problems were already exacerbated by the decision of US President Donald Trump in 2018 to stop an estimated $365 million of support to the agency.

Abu Sweireh expected that the UNRWA would make new “austerities” during the new year in various programs across its five areas of operations, especially in the employment and vacancy program and the relief aid program.

He said that the UNRWA salary announcement did not completely end the crisis and he expected there to be further conflicts and challenges in the coming period.

A member of the Joint Committee for Refugees, Ahmed Al-Mudallal, told Arab News that UNRWA’s procedures suggested that the conspiracy against the refugee issue had intensified its episodes of financial crisis, especially during Trump's last moments at the White House as he was “trying hard with his administration to save the deal of the century,” a reference to the outgoing president's Middle East peace plan that was launched last January.

The UN General Assembly has granted UNRWA a mandate to work that extends until March 2023 despite the pressure facing it.


Libya’s foreign minister slams European migration policy

Libya’s foreign minister slams European migration policy
Updated 03 December 2021

Libya’s foreign minister slams European migration policy

Libya’s foreign minister slams European migration policy
  • Foreign Minister Najla Mangoush spoke via video call at the Mediterranean dialogues in a session titled “Dealing with Migration"
  • EU sends funds to the detention centers indirectly through aid agencies

CAIRO: Libya’s foreign minister on Friday criticized a system of deterring migrants from reaching European shores that she argued fails to address the root of the problem and has so far only served the interest of EU states.
Her comments are the latest stab at EU policies that fund forces such as the Libyan coast guard, which intercepts migrant boats and brings them back onshore and detains them.
Foreign Minister Najla Mangoush spoke via video call at the Mediterranean dialogues, a conference hosted by the Italian government, in a session titled “Dealing with Migration.”
“Please do not push the problem in our lap and please do not point your fingers at Libya and portray us as a country which abuses and disrespects refugees,” she said. “We are tired of beating around the bush, and all these superficial solutions being offered, it’s time to state the problem and face it, instead of ... keep repeating it again and again.”
The European Union, which has come under fire for its support of Libya’s domestic efforts to stem migrant crossings in the past, has supported the country’s coast guard, which regularly intercepts vessels carrying migrants. Many migrants are then placed in brutal detention facilities, held indefinitely in appalling conditions, or held for ransom in exchange for payoffs, according to migrants who have made it out.
The European Union sends funds to the detention centers indirectly through aid agencies.
In her speech, Mangoush did not directly address the abuse accusations.
Libya has emerged as the dominant transit point for migrants fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East, hoping for a better life in Europe. Each year, thousands of migrants and refugees from Africa, the Middle East and South Asia attempt the deadly Mediterranean Sea crossing to Europe on overcrowded and often unseaworthy boats.
More than 1,300 men, women and children have died so far in 2021 trying to cross the Central Mediterranean from Libya and Tunisia to Italy and Malta, according to the UN migration agency.
The EU has sent 455 million euros to Libya since 2015, largely channeled through UN agencies and aimed at beefing up Libya’s coast guard, reinforcing its southern border and improving conditions for migrants.
Libya has been at war and split for years between rival administrations in the east and west, each backed by armed groups and foreign governments. After years of UN-led talks, the country is set to hold national elections later this month.
Mangoush said that what Libya needs is better policing system at its southern borders to control the influx of migrants, to address the root of the issue. She said the solution of simply providing money to Libya would never be enough, calling past initiatives “just for the cause of serving the agenda of the EU and the perspective of the EU.”


Tunisia records first case of omicron variant

Tunisia records first case of omicron variant
Updated 03 December 2021

Tunisia records first case of omicron variant

Tunisia records first case of omicron variant
  • 23-year-old man tested positive and all fellow travelers on his flight from Turkey were contacted by authorities

TUNIS: Tunisia recorded its first confirmed case of the omicron variant of the coronavirus in a Congolese man who arrived from Istanbul, the health minister said Friday.
Ali Mrabet said the 23-year-old man tested positive and all fellow travelers on his flight from Turkey were contacted by Tunisian authorities to be tested as well.
The omicron variant was first announced by South Africa but has since been discovered to have been present earlier in Europe.
It has prompted governments around the globe to reimpose travel restrictions, despite warnings from the World Health Organization this could do more harm than good.
On Friday, the WHO said it had not seen any reports of deaths related to the new omicron variant.
The WHO has said it will take several weeks to get a full picture of the transmissibility and severity of omicron, and to assess how vaccines, tests and treatments hold up against the new variant.


France’s Macron says hoping for progress on Lebanon ‘within next hours’

France’s Macron says hoping for progress on Lebanon ‘within next hours’
Updated 03 December 2021

France’s Macron says hoping for progress on Lebanon ‘within next hours’

France’s Macron says hoping for progress on Lebanon ‘within next hours’

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron said on Friday he hoped there would be progress on the Lebanon crisis in the next hours.
“We will do all we can to re-engage the Gulf regions for the benefit of Lebanon... I hope the coming hours will allow us to make progress.” Macron said during a visit to the United Arab Emirates.
Lebanon is facing a diplomatic crisis with Gulf states, spurred by a minister’s critical comments about the Saudi Arabia-led intervention in Yemen that prompted Riyadh, Bahrain and Kuwait to expel Lebanon’s top diplomats and recall their own envoys. The UAE withdrew its envoys.


US critics of Israel face challenges in redrawn Congress districts

US critics of Israel face challenges in redrawn Congress districts
Updated 03 December 2021

US critics of Israel face challenges in redrawn Congress districts

US critics of Israel face challenges in redrawn Congress districts
  • Planned changes to district boundaries could affect nine members of Congress who have a record of voicing support on Palestinian issues

CHICAGO: Nine members of Congress who have been vocal critics of Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians could face tougher re-election campaigns as a result of their districts being redrawn, an analysis by Arab News shows.

Every 10 years, the dominant political parties in many states re-draw district boundaries based on demographic data provided by the US Census, which does not count Arab and Muslim Americans as a separate category.

Where population shifts have led to proposed boundary changes, incumbents may be forced to stand in new districts. That’s the challenge facing Illinois representative Marie Newman, who won election in 2020 in the 3rd Congressional District, which has the largest concentration of Palestinian American voters.

Newman has chosen to face-off with Sean Casten, who is very strong on climate change, in the new 6th District rather than stand against Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, who is one of only two Hispanic congress members in Illinois, in the 4th District. Casten is a strong supporter of Israel and silent on Israeli violence against Palestinians, while Garcia has often joined Newman to support pro-Palestinian legislation, including voting against a bill giving Israel $1 billion for its Iron Dome defense system last September.

“Rep. Newman was supportive of the push to create a second congressional district of Latino influence and understood that doing so would mean the need to shift boundary lines of existing CDs in the Chicagoland area,” Newman campaign spokesperson Ben Hardin said.

Describing the challenges as “inevitable,” Hardin said: “Representative Newman is grateful … to have the support of so many people here in Chicago’s southwest side and in the south and west suburbs, including a strong coalition of supporters from the Arab and Muslim American community.”

The new Illinois district map was approved by Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, one of Israel’s strongest advocates, in November. Pritzker aroused anger among Arab Americans after refusing to apologize for disparaging remarks he made in a 1998 congressional race in which he accused a rival of accepting money from a Muslim group that Pritzker asserted supported terrorists.

“There is no doubt that the Illinois Democrats are seeking to undermine Newman, who has been a vocal supporter of Palestinian, Arab and Muslim rights,” said Hassan Nijem, the president of the American Arab Chamber of Commerce.

“She and Chuy Garcia are the only Illinois Democrats to defend Palestinian rights and recognize our growing community.”

The Illinois primary has been delayed from March until June 28, 2022, because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition to Newman and Garcia, seven other members of Congress who voted against the Iron Dome money could be affected by district changes.

They include Cori Bush of Missouri; André Carson of Indiana; Raúl Grijalva of Arizona; Ilhan Omar of Minnesota; Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts; Rashida Tlaib of Michigan; and Thomas Massie of Kentucky, a Republican Congressman who consistently votes against all foreign aid regardless of the recipient.

Tlaib, Pressley and Omar are members of the “Squad,” a group of progressive Democrats that includes New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Instead of voting against the Iron Dome funding, however, AOC voted “present” not taking a position.

In Michigan, which is holding its primary on Aug. 2 next year, mapmakers are proposing to re-draw Tlaib’s 13th district, increasing the number of African American voters. That could be important even though Tlaib defeated several African American candidates when she first ran and won office in the predominantly African American district in 2018.

Tlaib may be forced into a new district against pro-Arab Democrat Debbie Dingell. However, she could survive as the Michigan process puts remapping in the hands of an independent commission rather than partisan politicians. The final Michigan remap might not be completed until late January.

Also in Michigan, proposed changes would pit Jewish Democratic Congressman Andy Levin, who has been an outspoken supporter of the two-state solution for Palestine and Israel, against Brenda Lawrence.

Minnesota congressional remapping plans have targeted Omar and another pro-Palestinian Congresswoman, Betty McCollum, although maps in those districts have not been finalized.


Israeli agents convinced Iranian scientists to blow up their own nuclear facilities

Israeli agents convinced Iranian scientists to blow up their own nuclear facilities
Updated 03 December 2021

Israeli agents convinced Iranian scientists to blow up their own nuclear facilities

Israeli agents convinced Iranian scientists to blow up their own nuclear facilities
  • They posed as Iranian dissidents and smuggled bombs into the Natanz facility disguised as food
  • Israel had pledged to never allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons

LONDON: Agents from the Mossad convinced Iranian scientists to blow up their own nuclear facilities by “posing as dissidents” and smuggling explosives disguised as food into facilities, according to reports.

According to The Jewish Chronicle, Israeli agents convinced up to 10 scientists to destroy the Natanz nuclear facility, wiping out 90 percent of its centrifuges – crucial for research into nuclear weapons.

They are said to have smuggled some explosives into the plant in food lorries, while others were dropped in via drones and picked up by scientists – who they convinced to use against the nuclear sites by posing as Iranian dissidents.

The attack on the facility is just one of a long line of Israeli sabotages of Iranian nuclear facilities, a strategy that they have engaged in more as Iranian nuclear research has progressed.

The Natanz facility, a critical nuclear research site, has been hit by at least three attacks linked to the Israeli secret service, the Mossad.

In another incident, agents used a quadcopter drone to fire missiles at the Iran Centrifuge Technology Company in an attempt to disrupt its research.

In recent years, following the US withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, Iran has increased its atomic energy research, including enriching growing quantities of uranium above the levels required for civilian nuclear activity such as energy production.

In April Iran said that it would start enriching uranium up to 60 percent after the attack on its Natanz plant which it blamed on Israel – that is closing in on the 90 to 95 percent enrichment required for nuclear weapons.

This week – much to the ire of Israel – Iran and the US returned to the negotiating table to try to find a deal to curb Iran’s nuclear activity in exchange for relief from crushing economic sanctions imposed on the country by the US and its allies.

But on Thursday, Israeli officials called on the US directly to cease those negotiations.

In a phone call with US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett called for “concrete measures” to be taken against Iran.

He said that Tehran was carrying out “nuclear blackmail” as a negotiation tactic and that “this must be met with an immediate cessation of negotiations and by concrete steps taken by the major powers,” according to a statement released by his office.

The Israeli leader also expressed his concern about a new report from the UN, issued during the US-Iran talks in Vienna, which showed that Iran had “started the process of enriching uranium to the level of 20 percent purity with advanced centrifuges at its Fordo underground facility.”

Israel, the only nuclear-armed state in the Middle East, has pledged never to allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons.