Who We Are

Start operations

Start operations

1st May 1950

UNRWA begins its operations in the service of Palestine refugees. Initially, 69 per cent of the budget goes towards financing relief operations. Mass ration distributions also begin in 1950, and include basic items such as flour, rice, cheese and soap. As contributions allow, clothing, shoes, bedding and domestic items are added.

The 1951 Convention

The 1951 Convention

14th December 1950

General Assembly resolution 428 (V) and the adoption of the UNHCR Statute clarify the mandate of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, established by resolution 319 (IV) in December 1949 to lead international action to protect refugees and resolve refugee problems worldwide. The 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol clarify the rights of refugees and the obligations of states that are party to these instruments. The Convention does not apply to Palestine refugees “who are at present receiving from [UNRWA] protection or assistance”, unless “such protection or assistance has ceased for any reason, without the position of such persons being definitively settled in accordance with the relevant resolutions adopted by the General Assembly”, in which case they “shall ipso facto be entitled to the benefits of the Convention.”

Jordanian nationality


In Jordan, Law No 6 of 1954 on Nationality classifies as Jordanian nationals “any person who, not being Jewish, possessed Palestinian nationality before 15 May 1948 and was a regular resident in [Jordan] between 20 December 1949 and 16 February 1954”; many Palestine refugees obtain Jordanian nationality on this basis.

replacing tents with fabricated shelters

replacing tents with fabricated shelters


The number of Palestine refugees housed in tents falls to 32 per cent, from 87 per cent in 1951. By 1955, UNRWA begins gradually replacing tents in refugee camps with pre-fabricated shelters or cinderblock dwellings.

Najjar salts

Najjar salts


UNRWA pioneers the use of ‘Najjar salts’, a life-saving oral re-hydration formula for the treatment of diarrhoeic infants. In later years, the treatment is adopted and used extensively around the world by UNICEF.


We provide assistance and protection for some 5 million registered Palestine refugees to help them achieve their full potential in human development.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions from UN Member States. UNRWA also receives some funding from the Regular Budget of the United Nations, which is used mostly for international staffing costs.

The Agency’s services encompass education, health care, relief and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, microfinance and emergency assistance, including in times of armed conflict.


Following the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict, UNRWA was established by United Nations General Assembly resolution 302 (IV) of 8 December 1949 to carry out direct relief and works programmes 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 2017.

> Read the UN Resolution

Palestine refugees

UNRWA is unique in terms of its long-standing commitment to one group of refugees. It has contributed to the welfare and human development of four generations of Palestine refugees, defined as “persons 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.” The descendants of Palestine refugee males, including legally adopted children, are also eligible for registration. 

UNRWA services are available to all those living in its areas of operations who meet this definition, who are registered with the Agency and who need assistance. When the Agency began operations in 1950, it was responding to the needs of about 750,000 Palestine refugees. Today, some 5 million Palestine refugees are eligible for UNRWA services.

> More on Palestine refugees

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