What We Do

© 2015 UNRWA Photo by Taghrid Mohammad
is what UNRWA does to safeguard and advance the rights of Palestine refugees under international law.
Child Protection Cases
GBV Survivors Provided Services
Protection Cases
Staff Trained On Protection

*(figures relate to 2017)


UNRWA protection activities aim to respond to the protection needs of Palestine refugees amidst increasing conflict and displacement in the region. The Syrian conflict has displaced hundreds of thousands of Palestine refugees, including tens of thousands to Jordan and Lebanon, while Gaza has seen three rounds of hostilities in eight years. The more than 50 years of Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territory, including the more than ten years of the Gaza blockade, has serious and on-going consequences for the enjoyment of the rights of Palestine refugees. For a wide range of reasons, Palestine refugees do not fully enjoy basic human rights, and the vulnerability of women and children to violence and abuse is also increasing in some fields of operation.

In recent years, UNRWA has significantly strengthened its capacity to provide protection to Palestine refugees through various initiatives, including protection trainings for staff, dedicated protection activities to ensure focus on the most vulnerable, and the introduction of protection staff both at headquarters and in all field offices. The Agency adopted a protection policy in 2012 and has developed tools and standards for service delivery. Progress is measured through internal protection audits carried out every two years. UNRWA has an extensive programme on the prevention and response to gender-based violence (GBV) and has developed a Child Protection Framework.

Protection framework

Protection is what UNRWA does to safeguard and advance the rights of Palestine refugees. UNRWA undertakes a broad range of activities for the protection of Palestine refugees in the Agency’s five fields of operation within the scope of its mandate. The United Nations General Assembly  acknowledges the protection mandate of UNRWA by recognizing in its resolutions “the valuable work done by the Agency in providing protection to the Palestinian people, in particular Palestine refugees.” The Agency’s protection mandate specifically addresses the rights of vulnerable groups – women, children and persons with disabilities – and the United Nations General Assembly has encouraged  UNRWA to further address their needs and rights in its operations in accordance with relevant international instruments including the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The importance of protection to Palestine refugees is reflected in Strategic Outcome 1 of the Agency’s Medium Term Strategy for 2016-2021, which requires the Agency to work to ensure Palestine refugees’ rights under international law are protected and promoted. UNRWA applies a holistic approach to protection. This includes an ‘internal’ dimension, which supports the fulfilment of the rights of Palestine refugees in and through the Agency’s service delivery, and an ‘external’ dimension involving engagement with relevant duty bearers to promote respect for Palestine refugee rights. These dimensions complement each other and are not mutually exclusive.

  • There are four complementary elements to the Agency’s protection approach: 
  • UNRWA ensures that it provides protection in and through its service delivery programmes by meeting minimum protection standards;
  • UNRWA implements protection programmes that respond to protection threats and promotes the resilience of Palestine refugees; 
  • UNRWA addresses cases of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation of vulnerable groups, including women and children; and 
  • UNRWA promotes the rights of Palestine refugees under international law, through the monitoring and reporting of violations and by engaging in private and public advocacy. 

The Protection Division, established in 2016 at UNRWA Headquarters in Amman, provides strategic direction of, and coordination to, the implementation of the diverse protection activities across the Agency, including child protection, gender and GBV, disability and mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS).

In 2017, the coordination of MHPSS came within the remit of the Protection Division. The prevalence of adverse mental health and psychosocial issues amongst Palestine refugees is of increasing concern to the Agency and, as a result, the Agency’s Medium Term Strategy for 2016-2021 recognises the need to address these issues as a priority. The UNRWA MHPSS Framework was finalised in 2017 to facilitate greater coherence, consistency and quality of UNRWA MHPSS interventions and their impact across the Agency in order to protect and improve the mental health and psychosocial well-being of Palestine refugees.

*Last updated: March 2018

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Protection In Our Fields

In Gaza, home to 1.34 million Palestine refugees registered with UNRWA, repeated hostilities in recent years have had a devastating impact, with unprecedented levels of destruction of physical infrastructure, loss of human life, displacement and dramatic deterioration of the social fabric. The pace and scale of reconstruction remain extremely slow.

Having entered its 11th year in June 2017, the Israeli-imposed blockade of Gaza, which the United Nations considers illegal under international law as a form of collective punishment, continues to severely restrict the freedom of...Read more

In the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, where approximately 818,000 Palestine refugees live, June 2017 marked the 50th anniversary of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territory. Protection challenges resulting from the ongoing occupation include, among others: excessive use of force by Israeli Security Forces (ISF); military incursions into refugee camps; detention of minors; settlement expansion; movement and access restrictions; forced displacement and the risk of forcible transfer; home demolitions; and settler violence.

In 2017, attacks and clashes in...Read more

The Syrian conflict that began in 2011 has had a devastating impact on the more than 560,000 Palestine refugees registered with UNRWA in the country. Over 120,000 have fled Syria and are facing new vulnerabilities in countries where they are seeking refuge, with many living in constant fear of arrest and deportation back to Syria. Restrictions on the entry of Palestine refugees to neighbouring countries have pushed thousands to risk their lives seeking protection beyond the region.

Of the estimated 438,000 Palestine refugees that remain inside Syria (36 per cent of whom are...Read more

Of the 475,075 (December 2018) Palestine refugees registered with UNRWA in Lebanon, an estimated 270,000 currently reside in Lebanon (see American University of Beirut (AUB) and UNRWA, Survey on the Socioeconomic Status of Palestine Refugees in Lebanon of 2015  ), many of whom are excluded from key facets of social, political and economic life. Palestine...Read more

In Jordan, the 2.2 million Palestine refugees who are registered with UNRWA enjoy broad inclusion in social and economic life. The vast majority have Jordanian nationality, with the exception of some 158,000 ‘ex-Gazan’ refugees – Palestinians who fled from Gaza to Jordan in the aftermath of the June 1967 hostilities. Several legal restrictions limit their rights and contribute to their vulnerable living conditions.

Jordan also hosts around 17,000 Palestine refugees from Syria (PRS), 47 per cent of whom are children. While most of them are assessed as highly vulnerable and receive...Read more