What We Do

Relief & Social Services
Relief & Social Services
We promote the development and self-reliance of less-advantaged members of the Palestine refugee community – especially women, children, people with disabilities and the elderly.


The Social Services Programme (SSP) is based on the conceptual understanding that poverty is multi-dimensional and that vulnerabilities do not simply manifest themselves as economic poverty only but are driven by many more factors such as disability, mental illness or psychosocial instability, gender and age-related social segregation or exclusion. As such, the social services programme must be seen as a complementary intervention to the relief social services programme that supports most vulnerable refugees through cash-based transfers or in-kind assistance.

Over the years, this programme has adopted different strategies to foster resilience and empowerment and support social inclusion, often with a focus on women, children, youth, persons with disabilities and the elderly.


In 1953, UNRWA set up 22 sewing centres to provide women with training in traditional practices such as sewing, knitting and embroidery.

The first Rehabilitation Centre for the Visually Impaired (RCVI) was established in Gaza in 1962. Twenty years later, UNRWA launched its first pilot project to provide services to Palestine refugees with disabilities in the Souf Palestine refugee camp of Jordan.

In 1989, the Social Services Programme was formally established with the aim of enhancing social participation and inclusion of Palestine refugees, achieving gender equality, promoting civic engagement and addressing multi-dimensional poverty by building refugees' human, social and capital assets. Sewing centres were converted into community-based women's programme centres providing micro-credit schemes and small-scale vocational training. Community-based rehabilitation centres based on volunteer work were established to cater for needs of disabled persons, particularly in the camp environment. These centres were seen as important supplementary service centres between UNRWA and the refugee community, managed by community members themselves.

In the 1990s, UNRWA began to take on the role of a facilitator, rather than a service provider through these community-based organizations (CBOs), encouraging Palestine refugees to become more actively involved in identifying their priorities and organizing needed activities. CBOs gradually moved towards operating with their own budgets and bank accounts as autonomous, not-for-profit entities, whose incomes and revenues serve their own needs exclusively. CBOs are expected to become operationally sustainable, covering their running costs through self-generated income and/or donations. CBOs today provide services including skills training, rehabilitation and recreational activities. In turn, the CBOs have formed partnerships with other organizations – local and international, governmental and non-governmental.

UNRWA social workers play a fundamental role in providing and facilitating UNRWA services to Palestine refugee families and individuals. Social workers are responsible for, among other tasks, the socio-economic assessment of refugee households through regular home visits and for assisting particularly vulnerable groups – such as persons with disabilities, children who have lost one or both parents, women and elderly persons – through special programmes and targeted services

In 2016, UNRWA revisited its capacity to provide direct and professional social work support to refugees through its relief and social services front line staffing structure of currently around 330 staff engaged across the five fields of UNRWA operations. It was agreed to further build the skills of UNRWA social workers to follow-up on individual family situations through a social case work approach.


A long-recommended professionalization of its social workforce has been set a priority for the coming two years for the relief and social services programme.  A key component of this undertaking will be an intensive training programme based on blended learning and coaching for social workers and their supervisors to standardize and strengthen their knowledge and skills in providing case work interventions. Social workers will be equipped to address complex protection issues including abuse and neglect.  In particular, they will be equipped to address violence within families, especially when this comes against children and women.  A family-based approach to social work is seen as crucial in addressing intra-familial dynamics that may be undermining the psychosocial well-being of individual family members, allowing for a holistic support framework for interventions by the social worker. All interventions will occur on the basis of a compact agreement between the client individual and/or family and the social worker that provides for a trusted and constructive relationship.

Complementary to the capacity development and institutionalization of professional social work, the social services programme is formalizing partnerships with a variety of partner organizations to provide additional complementary services and referral pathways for most vulnerable Palestine refugees based on needs identified by social workers in collaboration with the refugees.

refugees based on needs identified by social workers in collaboration with the refugees.