UNRWA has supported multiple generations of Palestine refugees with health, education and social assistance. Life expectancy of Palestine refugees at birth is similar to that of nationals of host countries. UNRWA primary health clinics provide a level of basic care that has reduced maternal and infant mortality among Palestine refugees to national levels, or even lower, in the host countries.
More than 2.5 million Palestine refugees have graduated from UNRWA schools since the 1950s. UNRWA’s pioneering education programme is recognised as a significant educational force in the Middle East. The Agency has made a substantial and unique contribution to the human development of Palestine refugees and has earned a reputation for innovation and dynamism in its approach and commitment to education Literacy levels are high relative to regional comparators, particularly amongst women. A 2016 World Bank report found UNRWA students broadly outperform their peers in public schools and achieve higher-than-average results in international assessments, findings reaffirmed in a subsequent 2021 UNHCR-World Bank report. The 2021 UNHCR-World Bank report also found that UNRWA schools provide a model example and strong foundational lessons for effective emergency responsiveness in refugee education, as well as provide the building blocks for cost-effective, quality education service delivery in resource-constrained environments. And in 2021, 45 UNRWA schools across the Gaza Strip and 14 in the West Bank were named winners of the prestigious International School Awards, an honour granted by the British Council to celebrate schools that are successfully preparing students to be responsible global citizens by embedding international education into their curriculums.
UNRWA also works towards improving the access of Palestine refugees to livelihood opportunities in host countries – with an emphasis on women, youth, those living in poverty, and other vulnerable groups. Palestine refugees form a reservoir of human capital in the region and globally. Despite exclusion and frequent limitations on opportunities, they have played an important, widely-recognized role in local and regional development over the past 70-plus years.
UNRWA improves access to livelihood opportunities primarily through nine technical and vocational training centres, which have graduated more than 123,000 young people as of 2021, all trained to match the needs of the local labour market. Additionally, UNRWA microfinance services have distributed over 571,003 loans since 1992 at a total value of over US$ 615 million. UNRWA temporary job creation programmes in Gaza and employment service centres in Lebanon help refugees overcome, even if temporarily, some challenges to livelihood opportunities in these areas. UNRWA itself plays an important role as an employer of around 28,000Palestine refugees and others, the majority of them teachers, and it creates significant livelihood opportunities through its construction projects across its fields of operations.
In addition, UNRWA works to improve living conditions in refugee camps, from ensuring access to water to the construction and maintenance of sound education and health facilities, as well as shelter rehabilitation for the poorest and those affected by conflict.
As part of the social safety net programme (SSNP), UNRWA provides in-kind food and cash assistance to abject poor and vulnerable refugees. In 2021, 398,044 refugees in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan were assisted under this intervention, which makes the difference between going hungry and having food on the table.
The UNRWA response to the COVID-19 pandemic has showcased the Agency’s strength as a frontline service provider. The Agency’s ability to quickly and innovatively adjust service provision such as telemedicine, home delivery of essential medicines and the use of self-learning materials and interactive computer-based learning to minimize the spread of disease. The Agency’s infrastructure, its long experience in working during emergencies and its decision to issue dedicated COVID-19 flash appeals contributed to a quick response to the pandemic.