European humanitarian official from DG-ECHO visits
UNRWA’s job creation programme in West Bank

West Bank, 12 February 2008

A winding road through verdant hills of sprawling cactus leads to Budrus, a small village northwest of Ramallah near the Green Line. Budrus was the first destination of a visit by Mr. Steffen Stenberg, Director of Operations of the European Commission’s humanitarian arm, DG-ECHO, to view UNRWA emergency operations in the West Bank.

Several villagers were busy at work on a second floor addition to an elementary school when Mr. Stenberg arrived to meet with UNRWA officials and the head of the village council. Twenty local workers are employed here on one-month rotations by UNRWA’s emergency Job Creation Programme (JCP).

Adjacent to the school stands a green-domed mausoleum and a well upgraded for drinking water, both of which are the result of JCP projects. Looking out from the roof top the Barrier is clearly visible, the construction of which has caused land to be confiscated from the village.

A group of female JCP workers met with Mr. Stenberg to discuss a new embroidery initiative, implemented in partnership with the village council. New to Budrus, the project will train young apprentices and an embroidery exhibition is planned for the summer. 

The women told Mr. Stenberg how, were it not for the JCP, they would spend their time at home, unemployed, and that they are happy they can help provide for their families. Overall, women account for 30% of the JCP workers employed by UNRWA, which is supported by donors such as DG-ECHO.

The next stop on the visit was the nearby Deir Ammar refugee camp in Deir Ammar village, where Mr. Stenberg toured the UNRWA health clinic which provides primary healthcare to both refugees and non-refugees. The Agency employs nearly forty JCP workers at the clinic and at other installations, as attendants, sanitation workers and guards, all on three-month rotations. Some 185 men and 85 women are on the JCP waiting list in the camp.

Budrus and Deir Ammar are small villages especially hard-hit by movement and access restrictions; most workers lost their jobs in Israel as a result of these measures. In addition, many Budrus villagers either face difficulty or can no longer access their agricultural land in the “seam zone” between the Barrier and the Green Line to raise crops for sale. As unemployment rates continue to rise throughout the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), UNRWA’s Job Creation Programme is a much needed, albeit temporary, solution to an ongoing problem facing Palestine refugees.

A youth employed in the JCP in Deir Ammar camp said, “I’m grateful for this opportunity to work.  Prices keep going up, while the dollar keeps dropping. We’re trying to cope with a difficult situation.”

Both the refugees and their communities gain from the scheme, as the JCP helps to improve refugees’ living conditions and revitalise local economies. The programme is the largest of its kind in the West Bank and demand for it is tremendous.

UNRWA Director of West Bank operations, Barbara Shenstone, commented after the visit, “Mr. Stenberg has seen for himself the severe economic hardship caused by the current crisis. ECHO support to UNRWA’s Job Creation Programme has been and continues to be crucial to providing a lifeline for Palestine refugee families.”

Through its emergency programmes in the occupied Palestinian territory and in Lebanon, UNRWA seeks to mitigate the worst impacts of the crisis and to meet the most pressing basic needs of affected refugees.

In 2007, the Directorate-General for Humanitarian Aid – ECHO provided nearly €20 million for UNRWA’s emergency activities and projects in the region, including €7 million for UNRWA’s Job Creation Programme in the West Bank.