Palestinian workers gripped by unemployment and poverty, UN agency reports

1 June 2004 –

Joblessness continues to grip Palestinians in the Occupied Arab Territories, reaching an average of 35 per cent, the United Nations International Labour Organization (ILO) said in a new report released today.

The agency found that tight restrictions on the movement of persons, goods and services were causing "severe losses in production, employment and income."

"The reality of life in the territories is one of strangulation of the economy," said ILO Director-General Juan Somavia in a preface to the report, prepared by a recent high-level mission to the areas. "Poverty continues to grip Palestinian communities, relieved only by large-scale international assistance."

Unemployment in the last quarter of 2003 hit 20.7 per cent in the West Bank and 31.9 per cent in Gaza, a slight improvement over 2002, the report said, adding that close to 290,000 persons were unemployed or discouraged from looking for work.

Noting that "a valid work permit is no guarantee of actual employment, particularly for those workers who have to enter Israel to work," the report said mobility restrictions continue to intensify because of the new West Bank separation wall.

"The delays, increased costs and loss of earnings that result from road closures, prolonged security checks and curfews hamper economic activity of all kinds, thus reducing family incomes," Mr. Somavia said. "No sustained recovery of the economy is possible while this situation prevails."

On the positive side, the report cites some improved mobility in the West Bank, while cautioning that in some areas the situation "clearly remains volatile." One out of three Palestinians said reaching their place of work was "difficult, very difficult or impossible" in March, compared to 50 per cent in August 2003. In Gaza, 14.4 per cent said they had problems with mobility compared to nearly 30 per cent last August.

The ILO has an ongoing technical cooperation programme for the Occupied Arab Territories. In addition, the agency has allocated $1 million to the Palestinian Fund for Employment and Social Protection, which serves to coordinate assistance for jobs creation in the West Bank and Gaza.

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