UNRWA was established by UN 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.
UNRWA has a humanitarian and development mandate to provide assistance and protection to Palestine refugees pending a just and lasting solution to their plight. UNRWA derives its mandate from the UN General Assembly, the Agency’s parent organ, and it is only the General Assembly that can define the UNRWA mandate. The Agency’s mandate is not set out in a single source or document. Rather, the Agency’s mandate is derived primarily from UN General Assembly resolutions.
The Agency’s mandate has evolved over the years, as set out in various General Assembly resolutions, to extend to the provision of emergency services to persons in its area of operations who are currently displaced and in serious need of continued assistance as a result of the 1967 and subsequent hostilities. The mandate has also evolved to accommodate the changing needs and political situation of Palestine refugees, including with respect to protection activities.
UNRWA provides humanitarian assistance and contributes to protection of refugees through essential service delivery, primarily in the areas of basic education, primary health care and mental health care, relief and social services, microcredit, and emergency assistance, including in situations of armed conflict, to millions of registered Palestine refugees located within its five fields of operations (Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza).The Agency does not have a mandate to engage in political negotiations or durable solutions.
The General Assembly has repeatedly affirmed the necessity of the Agency’s work and reiterated the “essential” and “vital” role it plays. Since establishing UNRWA in 1949, the General Assembly has consistently renewed the Agency’s mandate routinely, most recently for another three years to 30 June 2023 with overwhelming support from UN Member States.
UNRWA will continue to fulfil its mandate of providing services to Palestine refugees until a just and durable solution to their plight is found. It is the responsibility of the international community to assist in finding that solution.
A public letter by UNRWA to UNHCR describing the UNRWA mandate and services, 22 September 2021, is available here.