Frequently asked questions

This section deals with general queries about UNRWA.

For the Agency’s response to particular new developments or specific questions, please contact the public information office.

Refugee camps

Does UNRWA run the refugee camps?

No. UNRWA does not administer the camps but is responsible for running education, health, and relief and social services programmes, which are located inside and outside camps. The Agency is not responsible for security or law and order in the camps and has no police force or intelligence service. This responsibility has always remained with the relevant host and other authorities.

Who owns the land the camps are built on?

Host governments allocate areas of land for use as refugee camps. Some of the land is state-owned, but the majority is privately owned. UNRWA does not own the land.

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UNRWA funding

What are the main sources of UNRWA's income?

Almost all funding comes from voluntary contributions, and mostly from donor states. The United Nations Secretariat finances over 100 international staff posts each year from its regular budget. UNESCO and WHO also fund on average 10 posts in the education and health programmes.

Who are UNRWA's biggest donors?

The United States was the largest single donor in 2013, with a total contribution of over US$ 130 million, followed by the European Union (over US$ 106 million). These contributions made up about 45 per cent of the total income UNRWA received for its core programme budget.

 

What is our financial situation?

The Agency is currently underfunded. At the beginning of 2014 the Agency's cash deficit stood at US$ 65 million. Funding is generally not keeping pace with increased refugee needs and uptake of services. This has led to a worrying erosion in the quality of services.

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What is UNRWA’s budget?

The regular UNRWA budget for 2013 was US$ 675 million, roughly half of which was spent on education. In response to emergency situations in the region - notably in the occupied Palestinian territory and in Syria - UNRWA has launched emergency appeals for assistance not covered by the regular budget. In 2014, UNRWA requires over US$ 400 million to respond to the emergency in Syria, and around US$ 300 million for emergency assistance in the West Bank and Gaza. 

How does UNRWA spend most of its money?

The UNRWA budget is divided among the human development goals it strives to achieve. Out of a US$ 675 million core programme budget in 2013, roughly half was earmarked for "acquired knowledge and skills", with US$ 118 million for "long and healthy lives" and US$ 86 million for "a decent standard of living".

Visit our donors page for more information about expenditure.

What oversight is there of UNRWA spending?

UNRWA has its own Department of Internal Oversight, charged with providing internal oversight through:

  • independent, professional and objective internal audit, inspection, investigation and consulting services
  • promoting responsible administration of resources, a culture of accountability and transparency
  • improved programme performance.

UNRWA’s Commissioner-General is advised by the Advisory Committee on Internal Oversight which includes external members. The Agency is also audited by the independent UN Board of Auditors every two years, which publishes its reports to the General Assembly. The Agency is bound by the principles of best practice of oversight that apply to the United Nations system as a whole.

Why is UNRWA not part of the UN assessed contribution system?

When UNRWA was established as a temporary agency the United Nations and member states thought it would be in the interest of both UNRWA and the refugees if the Agency was able to collect voluntary contributions of any amount from member states. However, the United Nations finances all UNRWA’s core international staff posts from its regular budget.

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UNRWA's beneficiaries

Who is a Palestine refugee?

The operational definition of a Palestine refugee is any person whose "normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948 and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict."

Palestine refugees are persons who fulfil the above definition and descendants of fathers fulfilling the definition.

Read UNRWA’s full eligibility rules (PDF)

In May 1951, UNRWA inherited a list of 950,000 persons from its predecessor agencies.

In the first four months of operations, UNRWA reduced this list to 860,000 persons, based on painstaking census efforts and identification of fraudulent claims.

The 1948 registered refugees and their descendants now number five million, and mainly reside in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon or Syria.

Does UNRWA only provide services to Palestine refugees?

No. For example, the Agency also provides services to refugees and people displaced by the Arab-Israeli conflict of 1967 and subsequent hostilities.

How does UNRWA provide protection to Palestine refugees?

Protection is what UNRWA does to safeguard and advance the rights of Palestine refugees. In particular, UNRWA:

  • promotes respect for Palestine refugees’ rights through monitoring, reporting and intervention
  • delivers its services in a manner that promotes and respects the rights of beneficiaries
  • ensures that protection needs are addressed in all aspects of programming, policies and procedures
  • advocates in public statements as well as private interventions with a broad range of interlocutors to promote the protection of refugee rights.

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History and establishment of UNRWA

Who provided emergency relief to Palestine refugees before UNRWA?

Immediately after the Arab-Israeli hostilities of 1948, emergency assistance was provided by international organisations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, League of Red Cross Societies and the American Friends Service Committee.

In November 1948, the United Nations established the United Nations Relief for Palestine Refugees (UNRPR) to extend aid and relief to Palestine refugees and coordinate efforts of NGOs and other UN bodies.

The United Nations established the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) under UN General Assembly Resolution 302 (IV), of 8 December 1949, as a subsidiary organ of the United Nations. The Agency inherited the assets of the UNRPR and took over the ICRC’s refugee registration records.

When did UNRWA begin its field operations?

On 1 May 1950.

If UNRWA was set up as a temporary Agency, why is it still working after 60 years?

The UN General Assembly has affirmed “the necessity for the continuation of the work” of UNRWA and “the importance of its unimpeded operation and its provision of services for the well-being and human development of the Palestine refugees and for the stability of the region.” The General Assembly has renewed UNRWA's mandate repeatedly pending the just resolution of the question of the Palestine refugees.

What is UNRWA’s mandate?

UNRWA was originally mandated to:

  • "carry out direct relief and works programmes in collaboration with local governments"
  • "consult with the Near Eastern governments concerning measures to be taken preparatory to the time when international assistance for relief and works projects is no longer available", and
  • plan for the time when relief was no longer needed.

UNRWA’s contemporary mandate is to provide relief, human development and protection services to Palestine refugees and persons displaced by the 1967 hostilities in its fields of operation: Jordan, Lebanon, the Syrian Arab Republic, West Bank and the Gaza Strip. UNRWA’s mandate has been repeatedly renewed by the UN General Assembly. The current mandate runs until 30 June 2014.

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Final status issues and peace negotiations

Is UNRWA involved in the Middle East peace negotiations and in the discussions on a solution to the refugee issue?

No. UNRWA is a humanitarian agency and its mandate defines its role as one of providing services to the refugees. However, UNRWA highlights the international community's obligation to provide a just and durable solution for Palestine refugees.

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Cooperation with other UN agencies and international organisations

Why do Palestine refugees not come under the mandate of UNHCR?

As UNRWA was set up in 1949, Palestine refugees were specifically and intentionally excluded from the international refugee law regime established in 1951. The 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol thereto exclude Palestine refugees as long as they receive assistance from UNRWA. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) provides assistance and protection to Palestine refugees outside UNRWA's areas of operations.

What is the difference between UNRWA and UNHCR?

UNRWA deals specifically with Palestine refugees in its five areas of operation in Jordan, Lebanon, the Syrian Arab Republic, West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Its role encompasses assistance, protection and global advocacy for Palestine refugees. UNHCR’s mandate is to provide international protection to refugees worldwide whenever political conditions allow. UNHCR is responsible for Palestine refugees outside UNRWA's areas of operation.

Find out more about the relationship between UNRWA and UNHCR in:

Does UNRWA work with other UN organisations in the region?

Yes. Partnership with other UN agencies is an important aspect of UNRWA's work, including with the UN Country Teams in its areas of operation. In education and health, UNRWA works closely with the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organizations (UNESCO) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

UNRWA also cooperates with other UN agencies such as UNICEF and UN Habitat, as well as specialised agencies such as the World Bank in their respective areas of expertise.

Does UNRWA work with non-governmental organisations?

UNRWA implements most of its services directly. However, staff from UNRWA and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) work together to provide some essential services for Palestine refugees. They are generally medical-humanitarian, human rights and development-oriented.

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UNRWA assistance in the occupied Palestinian territory

Why did UNRWA continue its operations in the West Bank and Gaza after the Palestinian Authority was established?

The Palestinian Authority falls under the same category as the host governments of Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. Until the refugee issue is solved and as long as there is a need for relief, UNRWA will continue providing services to the refugees in these areas in accordance with its mandate from the General Assembly. The Palestinian Authority strongly supports the continuation of UNRWA’s operations in support of the refugees.

How is UNRWA responding to the current humanitarian crisis in the West Bank and Gaza Strip?

UNRWA has launched a series of emergency appeals for emergency food, employment and cash assistance. The emergency programme serves over one million people in the West Bank and Gaza Strip who have been impoverished by the conflict, violence and restrictions. Emergency assistance consists of food assistance (flour, oil, rice, etc.), employment assistance (temporary job creation), shelter rehabilitation and reconstruction for those whose homes have been destroyed or are in need of repair, and some cash assistance.

UNRWA provides this emergency assistance in addition to its regular programme services in the areas of relief and social services, education and health and other assistance.

Is UNRWA now closing down its services in anticipation of the imminent closure of the Agency?

No, UNRWA services are not being closed down. However, the Agency has been forced to implement austerity measures over the last few years due to lack of funds: financial contributions have not increased sufficiently to keep pace with inflation and a rising refugee population. This has resulted in a reduction in services as is evident in the fact that average annual spending per refugee has fallen from about $200 in 1975 to around $110 today. Nevertheless, UNRWA’s commitment to Palestine refugees remains undiminished, and the Agency will continue to serve them pending a just resolution of the question of the Palestine refugees.

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