UNRWA Commissioner-General Calls for Support of Palestine Refugees in Audience with Pope Francis

11 May 2023
His Holiness Pope Francis (left) receives UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini (right) at the Vatican on 11 May 2023. © Vatican Media

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Today, His Holiness Pope Francis received the Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), Philippe Lazzarini.

The Commissioner-General described the unprecedented challenges facing Palestine Refugees, especially amid a lack of prospect to reach a solution to their plight. He provided the Pope with an overview on the pressing needs of Palestine Refugees across the UNRWA areas of operation and firsthand testimonies following his recent visits to Syria and Lebanon following the devastating earthquake.

Commissioner-General Lazzarini highlighted the critical work of UNRWA in support of the human development of Palestine Refugees, including in education through more than 700 schools serving over half a million Palestine Refugee girls and boys. Education - the largest programme that the Agency runs - is shaped by the principles of peace and tolerance. The Commissioner-General asked the Holy Father to help ensure the plight of the 5.9 million Palestine Refugees is not forgotten and their right to live in peace and dignity is upheld.

“I am incredibly honoured to bring to Pope Francis the story of Palestine Refugees and the critical work and impact of UNRWA services on their daily lives,” said the Commissioner-General. “As we approach the 75th anniversary of UNRWA, support for the human rights of Palestine Refugees and the work of UNRWA is more vital than ever to help them achieve a dignified life. The serious financial crisis that the Agency continues to face risks undoing the human development gains of Palestine Refugees,” he added.

During the meeting, Lazzarini gave the Pope a letter from Leen, a 15-year-old girl and an UNRWA student parliamentarian. She lives in Dheisheh refugee camp, near the occupied West Bank city of Bethlehem. “Like other children in the camp, I want to complete my education, so I can build a good future for myself and help my family and the people in the camp improve their lives. As a Palestine Refugee, I want to live in peace like the rest of the world’s children. We want our rights, we want to live in freedom, peace and security, and we want to go to school in peace and without fear.”


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Notes to Editors


  • UNRWA is the only UN agency that operates a fully-fledged school system of over 700 schools. These schools currently provide education to over half a million children.
  • The Agency-wide UNRWA Student Parliament was first established in 2017, providing an opportunity for UNRWA students from the five fields to meet and work together to support their peers and their communities and advocate for their rights locally, regionally, and globally. It builds on the school-level student parliaments operational in UNRWA schools since 2001, as part of the Agency’s Human Rights, Conflict Resolution and Tolerance (HRCRT) Education Programme.  
  • Between April and August of 1948, more than 700,000 Palestine refugees were displaced as a result of the 1948 War.  
  • The plight of Palestine refugees is the longest unresolved refugee crisis in the world today. UNRWA continues to maintain an active registration of 5.9 million Palestine Refugees. Our Refugees Archive Project maintains a historic record of registration and lineage, while our recently launched e-UNRWA registration mobile application enables Palestine Refugees to amend records and register births and deaths from anywhere in the world.
Background Information: 

UNRWA is the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. The United Nations General Assembly established UNRWA in 1949 with a mandate to provide humanitarian assistance and protection to registered Palestine refugees in the Agency’s area of operations pending a just and lasting solution to their plight.

UNRWA operates in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, The Gaza Strip, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. 

Tens of thousands of Palestine refugees who lost their homes and livelihoods due to the 1948 conflict continue to be displaced and in need of support, nearly 75 years on.

UNRWA helps Palestine Refugees achieve their full potential in human development through quality services it provides in education, health care, relief and social services, protection, camp infrastructure and improvement, microfinance, and emergency assistance. UNRWA is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions.


For more information, please contact:

Tamara Alrifai
UNRWA Spokesperson/ Director of External Relations & Communications
+962 (0)79 090 0140