Palestinian Refugees Force Closure of U.N. Offices

Hundreds of Palestinian refugees seeking better medical services on Wednesday forced the shutdown of two U.N. offices in southern Lebanon and staged a sit-in to press their demands.

About 500 refugees converged on the UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees) office in the coastal town of Tyre and asked employees to leave the premises before erecting a tent outside the building and holding a sit-in, an Agence France Presse correspondent witnessed.

About 100 refugees held a similar protest in front of the UNRWA office in Sidon, farther north.

A spokeswoman for UNRWA in Beirut acknowledged that the agency was severely under-funded but denied any recent cuts and deplored the closure of the two offices.

“It is regrettable that this protest move led to the closure of some UNRWA offices and consequently the disruption of some of the agency’s services provided to the refugee community,” UNRWA spokeswoman Hoda Samra said in a statement.

She added that although UNRWA had not reduced its services to the Palestinian community in Lebanon, it supported their demands for better health care and housing as well as other measures to alleviate poverty in Lebanon’s 12 refugee camps.

Samra said more funds were needed especially for specialized health care.

“The problem concerns costly surgeries such as for cancer, and we cover up to 30 percent which is very little… and the refugees cannot afford to pay the balance,” she told AFP.

Wednesday’s protests came amid media reports in Lebanon of several cases in which refugees — among them two children — had died for lack of full medical care.

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