UNRWA has been active in Syria since it started its field operations in 1950. Since the start of the conflict in 2011, UNRWA has stepped up its operations to ensure the needs of Palestine refugees in the country are met. The Agency is the main provider of humanitarian assistance, protection and basic services to 438,000 Palestine refugees who remain in the country, and who have been among those worst affected by the crisis. Almost 60 per cent of Palestine refugees in Syria have been displaced at least once.
UNRWA runs one of the largest cash programmes in the world in an active conflict setting and provides over 400,000 Palestine refugees with cash assistance. This has a profound effect on poverty levels; a 2017 UNRWA vulnerability survey showed that cash assistance reduced the number of Palestine refugees living in absolute poverty (less than US$ 2 a day) from 90 to 74 per cent of the population. Unfortunately, due to a lack of funding, UNRWA has had to reduce both the amount and frequency of its cash distribution in 2018.
In addition to cash, UNRWA also provides 418,000 Palestine refugees with food baskets, covering one third of their daily caloric needs. All Palestine refugees in Syria have access to basic healthcare provided by UNRWA . The Agency operates 103 schools which educate more than 50,000 children across the country. Livelihoods are supported through the microfinance programme, which is one of the largest in Syria. Lastly, UNRWA provides water and sanitation services to the accessible Palestinian camps in Syria – there are nine official and three unofficial* camps in the country.
UNRWA delivers services directly to refugees and has 4,000 staff, including doctors, teachers and engineers, operating at some 150 UNRWA facilities across the country. Service provision has been affected by the conflict. The Agency currently has access to 10 camps out of 12. Many installations remain inaccessible or have sustained severe damage. Forty per cent of UNRWA classrooms have been lost and almost 25 per cent of the Agency’s health centres are currently unusable due to the conflict. UNRWA has compensated for this by running second shifts in government schools, and establishing health points. UNRWA in Syria has also lost 18 staff members, who you can find out more about here.
Since the start of the crisis in 2011, UNRWA estimates that 120,000 Palestine refugees have left Syria for neighbouring countries, and beyond. In Lebanon and Jordan, UNRWA also provides healthcare, education and cash assistance to cover the basic needs of 50,000 Palestine refugees from Syria.
Palestine refugees in Syria have many of the rights of Syrian citizens - including access to social services provided by the Government of Syria. Most of the Palestine refugees who fled to the Syrian Arab Republic in 1948 were from the northern part of Palestine, mainly from Safad and the cities of Haifa and Jaffa. A further 100,000 people, including Palestine refugees, fled from the Golan Heights to other parts of Syria when the area was occupied by Israel. A few thousand refugees fleeing war-torn Lebanon in 1982 also took refuge in Syria. UNRWA works closely with the General Administration for Palestine Arab Refugees (GAPAR), a department of the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs.
Figures as of 1 January 2011.
* For more information about current UNRWA operations in Syria, please visit the Syria crisis page.
Palestine refugees from Syria have been severely affected by the ongoing armed conflict in the country.