Palestine refugees hope Pope Francis will highlight plight

By Karin Laub

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, May 22 2014 7:30 a.m. MDT

Violence dropped in recent years, though UNRWA said this week that there has been a sharp rise in the number of Palestinian refugees killed and wounded by Israeli troops, attributing this to an increase in the use of force by Israel.

Seventeen refugees were killed and 486 injured in 2013, compared to no deaths and 38 injuries in 2012, the agency said, adding that the upward trend continued into 2014.

But the resentment in the camps isn't just directed at Israel.

Some say they feel looked down upon by their better-off urban neighbors and ignored by the self-rule government of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Others complain about a cutback in services by UNRWA, which has run schools, clinics and food centers in 58 camps across the region since 1950. Faced with a growing budget deficit and Syria's civil war, the agency has, among other things, eliminated free meals in schools.

One of the biggest problems in the camps is unemployment, which exceeds the overall figure of 26 percent for the West Bank and Gaza. In Dheisheh, young men loiter all day in alleys, the walls decorated with graffiti tributes to those killed by Israel.

Tariq Afandi, 33, said he worked as a laborer in Israel for several years, but was later denied an entry permit. Such permits are often revoked at times of Israeli-Palestinian tensions.

Afandi hasn't worked in more than a year and blames it in part on what he said is rampant nepotism in Palestinian society.

"The jobs are for the Palestinian Authority officials and their families," he said. "Their sons and daughters get the government jobs. They leave us jobless. People are ... willing to explode at any moment."

He shrugged off the Pope visit, saying he believes ordinary people won't have access.

"The officials who are in good positions, who have jobs and money are the ones to talk to the Pope, not us the poor people who are deprived of everything," he said.

Laub reported from Jericho, West Bank.

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