New shelters for Rafah homeless

“If you destroy our houses, you will not destroy our souls” (Photo: Johannes Abeling)

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) today handed over 109 new homes to 116 families from Rafah refugee camp whose shelters have been destroyed by the Israeli military during the last four years.

These homes are the visible expression of UNRWA’s pledge to provide shelter for all these refugees made homeless by the conflict that has raged since September 2000. According to UNRWA’s statistics, by end of December 2004, a total of 2,991 shelters, home to over 28,483 people had been demolished or damaged beyond repair in the Gaza Strip since the start of the strife. Of the total, 2,521 shelters accommodated 4,337 refugee families, of whom 3,633 families have been identified as being eligible for assistance under the Agency’s rehousing programme. Fortunately, there has been a halt in house demolition since the beginning of this year.

The 72 buildings opened today will house some 670 refugees and are the last part of a fivephase project that has provided a total of 431 new homes. This, the fifth phase, was funded by donations from Spain, Ireland and unearmarked contributions to UNRWA’s emergency appeals. The total cost of this part of the project, including the infrastructure work, is approximately $ 2.2 million.

Homeless families waiting for their new shelters have already been provided with emergency assistance from UNRWA, in the form of tents, blankets, kitchen utensils, food parcels, and rental subsidies. Additionally, the construction project itself has served to alleviate some of the hardships being felt in the Gaza Strip. It provided around 36,000 man-days of temporary employment for laborers, builders, and tradesmen in an area where unemployment is exceptionally high.

In total, in the Gaza Strip 775 shelters for 831 families have so far been rebuilt and another 148 shelters for 165 families are under construction. Plans for an additional 1,210 funded shelters for 1,285 families are currently underway in Rafah. However, UNRWA still needs approximately $28 million to cover the backlog requirement for a further 1,263 new shelters to house 1,352 homeless refugee families throughout the Gaza Strip.

UNRWA Commissioner General, Ms. Karen Koning AbuZayd, has urged the international donor community to increase its financial support for the Agency’s re-housing activity and its plans for the post disengagement era in the oPt. These plans include major improvement of the refugee camps, major infrastructure development projects, expanding the Agency’s current Job Creation and Microfinance and Microenterprise programmes, etc. “These projects are aimed at making the refugees feel a tangible difference in their lives, which should help to put the peace process in the region back on the right track,” Ms. AbuZayd elaborated.

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