PEACE in Action

UN Relief and Works Agency

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Member of the United Nations System
UN Relief and Works Agency

Establishment and Organization

Following the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict, UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, was established by United Nations General Assembly resolution 302 (IV) of 8 December 1949 to carry out direct relief and works programs for Palestine refugees. The Agency began operations on 1 May 1950. In the absence of a solution to the Palestine refugee problem, the General Assembly has repeatedly renewed UNRWA's mandate, most recently extending it until 30 June 2011.

UNRWA is a subsidiary organ of the United Nations. The Agency's chief officer, the Commissioner-General, is appointed by the UN Secretary-General after consultation with the Advisory Commission, and he is the only head of a United Nations body to report directly to the General Assembly. The Advisory Commission meets annually to review Agency activities. Its membership consists of Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, EC, Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Lebanon, Netherlands, Norway, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the Syrian Arab Republic, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The EC, League of Arab States and Palestine Liberation Organization attend as observers.


The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East:

  1. Provides relief and works programmes to more than 3.6 million registered refugees through its headquarters in Gaza and Amman and its field offices located in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria;
  2. Provides educational services, including general and higher education, vocational, technical and teacher education to meet the basic educational needs of Palestine refugees, and to enhance their educational and employment opportunities with professional and technical assistance from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO);
  3. Provides a wide range of health services, including disease prevention and treatment, health protection and promotion, and environmental and family health programmes to meet the basic health needs of Palestine refugees and to improve their overall state of health. Professional and technical assistance is provided by the World Health Organization (WHO);
  4. Provides basic relief and social services to assist the refugees in meeting their needs, and to improve their capacity to become more self-reliant. In this context, an important objective is poverty alleviation. In addition, UNRWA seeks to ensure that the basic requirements for survival are made available to the most needy Palestine refugees classified as special hardship cases;
  5. Works towards reducing Palestine refugees' dependence on material assistance by providing skills training, income generation projects, and other community services;
  6. Develops initiatives in the field of social and economic development in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Since its establishment, the Agency has delivered its services in times of relative calm in the Middle East, and in times of hostilities. It has fed, housed and clothed tens of thousands of fleeing refugees and, at the same time, educated and given health care to hundreds of thousands of young refugees.

UNRWA is unique in terms of its long-standing commitment to one group of refugees, and its contributions to the welfare and human development of four generations of Palestine refugees. Originally envisaged as a temporary organization, the Agency has gradually adjusted its programs to meet the changing needs of the refugees. Today, UNRWA is the main provider of basic services - education, health, relief, and social services - to over 4.4 million registered Palestine refugees in the Middle East.

In its 2008 report, UNRWA has enumerated a number of problems it is encountering in the education and health fields. It is seeking additional resources to meet with these. However, one of the worst problems is conflict in some of the areas. In Gaza when the fighting resumed, some people were forced out of their homes, and a school had to be used as a temporary shelter.

A lot of the children suffer breakdowns – 25 per week during a period recently in Gaza. Poverty is a serious problem in a number of areas. Some children go begging on the streets or take jobs to try to make sure that the family is fed. The cramped quarters in which a number of children live make study at home virtually impossible. In some areas, there aren't enough school facilities; in others, it is difficult to recruit sufficient trained teachers.

The health problems are serious in a number of areas due to inadequate health facilities and trained personnel.

United States Support

The United States Department of State announced in January 2008 that it was making an immediate initial contribution of $40 million to UNRWA in support of its 2008 General Fund Appeal. The statement added: “The U.S. contribution will support UNRWA’s provision of basic and vocational education, primary health care, and relief and social services to over 4.4 million registered Palestinian refugees in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. In 2008, the U.S. intends to support UNRWA’s General Fund at levels commensurate with the $90.65 million provided in 2007. Every year UNRWA educates approximately 490,000 children in more than 650 schools, hosts nine million patient visits in 127 health clinics and one hospital, and provides special hardship assistance to 250,000 of the most vulnerable refugees. UNRWA’s tolerance education program promotes human rights, conflict resolution, and tolerance in every UNRWA school. Since the inception of its microfinance program in 1991, UNRWA has awarded 126,000 loans to help Palestinian refugees become self- sufficient and to promote private sector growth.

The United States is UNRWA’s largest bilateral donor. In 2007, the U.S. Government contributed $154.15 million to UNRWA, including $90.65 million for UNRWA’s General Fund and $63.5 million for its emergency appeals for Lebanon, the West Bank, and Gaza.”

Sweden Increased Its 2008 Contribution

On 3 March, Sweden announced its contribution to UNRWA's General Fund for 2008 at approximately $40 million, an increase of $1.5 million over 2007. Sweden is UNRWA's third largest donor.

Sweden also supports UNRWA's Organizational Development process, and part of its General Fund contribution will be allocated to pursue this comprehensive reform initiative.

The UNRWA website is: []

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