What We Do
Our mandate as an Agency is to assist and protect Palestine refugees, and upholding neutrality is a vital part of doing this. From ensuring the sanctity of installations designated as shelters in times of crisis, to maintaining access to the most vulnerable populations, neutrality is at the heart of all UNRWA operations.
Neutrality has a long history in humanitarian thought, being one of the internationally established “humanitarian principles” formally adopted by the General Assembly1, and endorsed by UNRWA. Neutrality is understood to mean that irrespective of their personal beliefs and opinions “[h]umantarian actors must not take sides in hostilities or engage in controversies of a political, racial, or ideological nature”.
When we side with neither adversary
we are more likely to gain everyone’s trust.
Due to the polarised nature of conflict, it is among the most important principles we can commit to as an agency.
As an agency, we owe our ability to uphold neutrality in all of our operations - from the use of UNRWA buildings, to the provision of assistance to our beneficiaries, to our relations with third parties - to our dedicated staff. The principle of neutrality and the specific obligations in upholding it are well embedded in the Agency’s regulatory framework. In 2017, the Agency issued the Neutrality Framework, which serves as a comprehensive reference of principles, obligations and procedures for upholding neutrality.
Everyone has views regarding the situations which continue to directly impact the lives and needs of Palestine refugees, including an overwhelming majority of the Agency’s staff. Yet, the Agency’s staff fully understand the value und significance of neutrality for UNRWA and its ability to implement its mandate. We are united by a deep commitment to humanitarianism and, therefore, a commitment to neutrality.
Neutrality also ensures our access in many other ways. For example, when we have the trust of host governments it means that we can import medicines for our clinics and secure visas for our staff to enable them to carry out their professional duties. In a conflict, neutrality enables us to communicate with all parties to ensure that our installations are not affected during times of hostilities or armed violence. In other words, neutrality is crucial for the continued operations of the Agency and is, therefore, regulated and outlined in the UNRWA Neutrality Framework, as well as several regulatory framework documents which all staff must abide by.
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