What We Do
Since its establishment, UNRWA has always taken action to mitigate the effects of emergencies on the lives of Palestine refugees. In 2021, over 1.7 million persons received life-saving humanitarian assistance from UNRWA, funded through the Agency’s Emergency Appeals. This included 1 million persons in Gaza, close to half a million Palestine refugees affected by the conflict in Syria (including 45,000 who fled to Lebanon and Jordan) and Palestine refugees in Lebanon most impacted by the current crisis there. In addition, in May 2021, UNRWA issued a Humanitarian and Early Recovery Appeal to address the additional needs created by the May 2021 hostilities in Gaza and the increased tensions in the West Bank for the period May to December 2021.
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, repeated cycle of hostilities in Gaza and Syria, socio-economic crisis in Lebanon and a protracted protection crisis in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. 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.
The ongoing conflict in Syria has become one of the most serious challenges UNRWA has faced in its seven decades of working with Palestine refugees. After eleven 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 two years, vulnerabilities have increased due to the overlapping impacts of the current economic crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many of the Palestinian refugees from Syria (PRS) who have fled Syria and are currently in Lebanon (29,000 PRS) and Jordan (19,000 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 crises, with emergency relief, health, protection, education in emergencies and environmental health services. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, UNRWA integrated special measures within its existing emergency programmes, adjusting essential services to the challenges of the pandemic, and introduced new interventions to meet additional needs.
More details about the 2022 emergency programmes of the Agency in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan are available here.
The humanitarian situation in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) also remains critical and has deteriorated as a result of the May 2021 escalation of hostilities in Gaza, the deteriorating security situation in the West Bank and the protracted consequences of the blockade, occupation and COVID-19.
In the Gaza Strip, Palestine refugees are struggling with the humanitarian consequences of the 15-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, increased in 2021 negatively impacting 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. Through its 2022 Emergency Appeal, UNRWA will also continue its support to refugee families in Gaza whose homes were badly damaged/destroyed in the May 2021 hostilities, through the provision of Transitional Shelter Cash Assistance (TSCA) and support to shelter reconstruction and repair works. COVID-19 special measures will continue to be integrated in the emergency interventions of the Agency. More details about the Agency 2022 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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