What We Do
Since its establishment, UNRWA has always taken action to mitigate the effects of emergencies on the lives of Palestine refugees. In 2020, over 2.2 million persons received life-saving humanitarian assistance from UNRWA, funded through the Agency’s Emergency Appeals, including the COVID-19 response. This included one million persons in Gaza, over 400,000 in Syria and 300,000 in Lebanon.
The operational context in which the Agency works is challenging, ranging from relative stability in some host countries to more complex environments, including armed conflict and repeated cycle of hostilities in Gaza and Syria. UNRWA works in close coordination with UN country teams in host countries to develop contingency and emergency response plans through all phases of a crisis, i.e. prevention, preparedness, response and recovery. Normally, these operations are of short duration, though protracted humanitarian emergencies may require a sustained relief effort.
The protracted conflict in Syria has become one of the most serious challenges UNRWA has faced in its seven decades of working with Palestine refugees. After ten years of conflict, the household resilience and coping capacities of the 438,000 Palestine refugees currently estimated to remain in the country have been severely undermined and poverty is near universal. Two-thirds of Palestine refugees have been displaced at least once since the beginning of the conflict, and 40 per cent remained displaced within Syria and are confronted with additional hardship and persistent humanitarian needs. Over the past year, vulnerabilities have increased due to the overlapping impacts of the current economic crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many of the Palestine refugees from Syria (PRS) who have fled Syria and are currently in Lebanon (27,700 PRS) and Jordan (17,800 PRS), continue to face a marginalized and precarious existence due to their uncertain legal status. In Lebanon, all Palestine refugees have been confronted with increased hardship since the onset of an economic crisis in October 2019, which has caused loss of livelihood and a spike in prices including of the most basic commodities, leaving many unable to meet their most basic needs. In both Lebanon and Jordan, the COVID-19 pandemic has further compounded existing vulnerabilities, pushing more families into poverty and hardship.
Despite considerable challenges, the Agency continues to provide Palestine refugees in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan affected by crisis, with emergency relief, health, protection, education in emergencies and environmental health services. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, UNRWA has integrated special measures within its existing emergency programmes, to ensure that essential services continue to be provided adjusted to the challenges of the pandemic, and that additional needs are addressed.
More details about the Agency’s 2021 emergency programmes in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan are available here.
The humanitarian situation in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) also remains critical and has deteriorated since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
In the Gaza Strip, Palestine refugees are struggling with the humanitarian consequences of the 14-year air, land and sea blockade, which continues to cause high levels of food insecurity, poverty and joblessness. Repeated cycles of violence and escalations in hostilities further add to the current despair and hopelessness experienced by many Palestine refugees, taking a heavy toll on their mental health and psychosocial wellbeing. The COVID-19 pandemic has put an enormous strain on an already degraded health system and has increased poverty and vulnerability.
In the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, the lives of Palestine refugees continue to be affected by the socioeconomic and protection-related effects of the occupation, including restricted access to land, services, property, markets and job opportunities. Military operations conducted by Israeli forces in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, negatively impact the lives of Palestine refugees; these operations, often involving the use of live ammunition and tear gas, result in casualties, serious psychosocial impacts and damage to land and property. The COVID-19 pandemic has severely affected the public health system and economy in the West Bank and large numbers of Palestine refugees have lost their livelihoods due to the pandemic.
In response to mounting humanitarian needs, UNRWA continues to provide emergency relief assistance (primarily in the form of food assistance in Gaza, and cash and food in the West Bank), emergency health, education, mental health and psychosocial support, protection and environmental health services. Due to the additional challenges caused by COVID-19, the Agency has introduced several specific and additional measures as part of its emergency interventions. More details about the Agency’s 2021 oPt emergency programming are available here.
Underfunding of UNRWA emergency appeals undermines the Agency’s ability to provide vital assistance to Palestine refugees in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan as well as in the oPt. On some occasions, the Agency has been forced to scale down and/or suspend a number of interventions, with negative consequences on the humanitarian situation and well-being of Palestine refugees. Ensuring predictable and sufficient funding to UNRWA emergency operations is essential to maintain the provision of humanitarian assistance and basic services to Palestine refugees.
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