UN agency sees opportunity after Gaza withdrawal

Karen Koning AbuZayd

Following Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, the head of the main United Nations agency helping Palestinian refugees said today that her main focus was on creating jobs, micro-financing and housing reconstruction so that the inhabitants themselves would benefit from the pullback.

In that effort, Karen Koning AbuZayd, Commissioner-General of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) said the Agency will work within the framework of James Wolfensohn, the envoy of the Middle East Quartet for coordinating Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza and the economic and social transition there.

“We are very keen, along with the Wolfensohn team, to make sure that there are benefits and opportunities for the people in Gaza,” she said at a briefing at UN Headquarters in New York.

The Agency, she said, is developing a job programme for graduates and people who had not been able to work during the intifada to get them jobs with municipalities, NGOs and the private sector, which will be funded for the first year by the international community.

UNRWA also has a longer-term programme to improve, over three years, refugee camp infrastructure in order to better the refugees’ living conditions. Two-thirds of the population in Gaza consisted of refugees, of which one-half live in camps.

She said that one important concern is transportation to and from Gaza. Questions about the airport and seaport had not been settled and a link between the West Bank and Gaza is also of major concern.

UNRWA was also concerned there would be a political horizon for the refugees in Gaza, as they needed to see peace in the Middle East.

Ms. AbuZayd said the UNRWA budget for the next biennium, which she will present later this week, has increased by 30 per cent over the previous budget because it incorporates post-disengagement activities and efforts to improve living conditions for Palestinian refugees throughout the region.

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