Gaza City – Since her graduation 10 years ago, Amal Shanioura has been searching for a suitable job opportunity in business administration, but has had no success.
The 32-year-old’s frustration took her last week to a protest in front of the headquarters of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Refugees (UNRWA), where demonstrators demanded the body provide more job opportunities in Gaza, and an end to the blockade imposed on the enclave by Israel.
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Dozens of graduates participated in the protest, raising slogans denouncing the deteriorating economic situation and the lack of job opportunities amid a sharp rise in the Gaza unemployment rate, which, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, is higher than 45 percent. The United Nations has said that 81 percent of the population is living in poverty.
Youth unemployment statistics, which cover 19 to 29-year-olds, are particularly stark when it comes to comparing the occupied West Bank to Gaza – 32 percent in the West Bank are unemployed, compared with 70 percent in Gaza.
“Like any graduate, I volunteered in several places and institutions related to my specialty to no avail,” Shanioura told Al Jazeera. “I also worked in some jobs intermittently, but they soon ended and I rejoined the ranks of unemployment.”
“As a citizen, I have the right to obtain a suitable job opportunity, especially from UNRWA, which offers permanent or temporary employment programmes for graduates.”
Iman al-Qarinawi, 24, who graduated from the College of Pharmacy two years ago, told Al Jazeera that she had never imagined that her efforts during five years studying at university would be in vain.
“I graduated with a high average [grade] and have sufficient skills and experience to join the labour market, but the reality in Gaza is harsher than all expectations,” al-Qarinawi said.
“I volunteered to work in several private pharmacies but was unable to obtain a job opportunity,” al-Qarinawi added. “I feel very frustrated with the situation in Gaza.”
Al-Qarinawi has three other siblings, all graduates in different fields, and all of whom are unemployed and sitting at home.
“The issue of unemployment has become more like a general phenomenon in the homes of the Gaza Strip,” she added. “Almost every home has two or three unemployed graduates.”
No jobs, no hope
Salah Abdel Ati, a Gaza-based legal and economic researcher, told Al Jazeera that university graduates should be in a position where they can expect to have job opportunities, but that Israel’s blockade of Gaza since 2007 had severely damaged the enclave’s economy.
Abdel Ati said 180,000 students graduate annually from universities in Gaza, entering a job market where opportunities are few and far between.
“Since refugees represent 70 percent of the population [in Gaza], UNRWA is required to provide them with job opportunities and operational programmes, especially in light of the difficult economic conditions,” he said.
According to Abdel Ati, local estimates indicated that about 200,000 graduates in Gaza are unemployed and unemployment rates are increasing.
Directing his message to the commissioner-general of UNRWA, Abdel Ati demanded the creation of an emergency programme for graduates in the Gaza Strip.
“Youths need development projects and to be provided with soft loans that help them build their future,” he added.
UNRWA did not respond to a request for comment from Al Jazeera. However, on Monday, the body’s media adviser in Gaza, Adnan Abu Hasna, said in a statement that UNRWA needed $190m until the end of the year to overcome a budget deficit.
That includes funding to cover staff salaries, as well as “$75m for food coupons in Gaza because they are a lifeline for the people”, Abu Hasna said.
According to the World Labour Organisation, the unemployment rate in Gaza is among the highest in the world. “Almost every second economically active Gazan is out of work … two-thirds are unemployed and few can find a job,” the organisation said in a report released this year.
The economic crisis facing Gaza, which has faced numerous attacks by Israel since Hamas took over the territory in 2007, is also evidenced by the more than half of the Palestinians in Gaza who rely on humanitarian aid, and the nearly one-third of households who have been categorised as experiencing “catastrophic” or “extreme” levels of need.
The conditions in the Gaza Strip, closed off from the outside world in an area 365 square kilometres (141sq miles) big, have forced many Gaza Palestinians to think about something that is notoriously difficult for them – leaving.
Musbah Mukhaimer, 29, studied health administration and has worked as a volunteer in a number of governmental and private facilities, but he has not been able to obtain a stable job opportunity.
“A young man my age is in dire need of work in order to build his future, get married, and raise a family, but life in Gaza does not guarantee even the basics,” Mukhaimer said.
Mukhaimer called on UNRWA to activate programmes to re-employ graduates, stressing that “Palestinian youth have the right to live a decent life like the rest of the world.”
“We need job-creating programmes and training that support graduates in obtaining job opportunities and providing a decent life for them and their families.”