Frequently asked questions

This section deals with general queries about UNRWA.

For the Agency’s response to particular new developments or specific questions, please contact our press and public information representatives

UNRWA mandate - Definition of Refugees, Descendants, and Solutions

<p>UNRWA mandate - Definition of Refugees, Descendants, and Solutions</p>

Is UNRWA a political organisation?
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No. Established by the United Nations General Assembly (as its subsidiary organ), UNRWA is a United Nations agency and humanitarian organization that operates based on the legal framework applicable to United Nations entities, including the United Nations Charter, and in accordance with the UN humanitarian principles of neutrality, impartiality, independence and humanity.
The Agency is mandated by the UN General Assembly to provide assistance and protection to Palestine refugees pending a just and lasting solution to their plight. UNRWA services include education, healthcare, relief and social services, camp infrastructure, microfinance and emergency assistance to Palestine refugees. The finding of a just and lasting solution to the plight of Palestine refugees is a political matter and is not part of UNRWA’s mandate.
Can UNRWA change the definition of a Palestine refugee?
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No. Only the UN General Assembly can change the mandate of UNRWA and who the Agency is mandated to serve, i.e. Palestine refugees.
 
Based on a definition introduced in 1952, the UN General Assembly mandates UNRWA to provide services to Palestine refugees, namely “persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948, and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict.”
 
The UN General Assembly has also mandated UNRWA to offer services to other persons who require humanitarian assistance, on an emergency basis as and when required, in UNRWA fields of operation. Notably, the General Assembly has mandated the Agency to provide services to persons displaced as a result of the 1967 and subsequent hostilities. These persons are not registered as Palestine refugees.
How many Palestine refugees’ access UNRWA services?
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In 2019, 533,000 refugee children attended UNRWA schools, 3.5 million refugees received primary health care services, over 250,000 abject poor (who cannot meet their basic food needs) received relief and social services, and 1.5 million affected by conflict, blockade and occupation in the occupied Palestinian territory or affected by the Syria conflict received urgent humanitarian assistance. UNRWA basic education and primary health care services are accessible to all Palestine refugees who seek them, while other services like cash and food assistance or hospitalization support are available only to the abject poor.
 
As of 2019, over 5.6 million Palestine refugees were registered as such with the Agency and eligible to access its services within the UNRWA areas of operation. However, not all registered refugees avail themselves of the Agency’s services. Reasons include - for example - having moved outside of UNRWA areas of operation (Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza). The annual UNRWA budget is based on the numbers of refugees accessing services, not the total number of those registered.
Is the transfer of refugee status to descendants unique to UNRWA?
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No. Under international law and the principle of family unity, the children of refugees and their descendants are also considered refugees until a durable solution is found. As stated by the United Nations, this principle applies to all refugees and both UNRWA and UNHCR have recognized descendants as refugees on this basis.
 
In line with this, the UN General Assembly annual resolutions on UNRWA operations continue since the 1950s to require the Agency to deliver its services for the protection and assistance of Palestine refugees, including descendants. (See hyperlink, pages 10 through 19).
 
Palestine refugees are not distinct from other refugees in protracted refugee situations such as those from Afghanistan or Somalia, where there are multiple generations of refugees, registered by UNHCR as refugees and supported as such. Protracted refugee situations are the result of the failure to find political solutions to their underlying political crises.
 
It is important to note that UNRWA does not afford refugee status under the 1951 Geneva Convention, but provides services and assistance based on a definition that sets out eligibility for receipt of such services.
Why does UNRWA provide services to Palestinians with another nationality?
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UNRWA’s mandate is to provide protection and assistance to Palestine refugees pending a just and lasting solution to their plight. It is for the UN General Assembly to determine who the Agency serves. Eligibility for the receipt of UNRWA services has never been made contingent on the lack of nationality. Eligibility for UNRWA services is a matter separate to conferral of refugee status or nationality under international law – issues that go beyond the scope of the Agency’s mandate.
Why doesn’t UNRWA engage in finding a solution to the refugee problem?
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UNRWA is a humanitarian organisation that has a mandate to provide assistance and protection to Palestine refugees pending a just and lasting solution to their plight. UNRWA has no mandate to seek durable solutions, such as integration into host communities or resettlement into third countries.
 
The General Assembly has repeatedly affirmed the necessity of UNRWA’s work, reiterated the “essential” and “vital” role it plays and renews UNRWA's mandate every three years (most recently extending it until 30 June 2023).
Is UNRWA perpetuating the refugee problem?
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No. UNRWA is tasked by the General Assembly to provide assistance and protection to Palestine refugees pending a just and lasting solution to their plight. Palestine refugees do not exist because of UNRWA but because of the lack of a just and lasting solution to their plight. Protracted refugee situations are the result of the failure to find political solutions to their underlying political crises.
 
Moreover, the international community broadly supports UNRWA and recognizes that the role it plays in addressing human development and long term 
refugees, contributes to social and economic development and stability, that is, to conditions conducive to the search for peace.
Does UNRWA promote the Right of Return of Palestine refugees?
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The right of return is enshrined in UN General Assembly resolution 194. UNRWA was established to provide assistance pending the implementation of that resolution, which has been reaffirmed by the General Assembly since 1948. We understand that voluntary repatriation is the preferred solution sought by UNCHR for refugee situations globally. However, UNRWA is a humanitarian organisation and - contrary to UNHCR’s mandate - has no authority to seek durable solutions for refugees, including return to the country of origin. Other UN actors are tasked with the mission of facilitating a just and lasting solution to the plight of Palestine refugees.
Why is UNHCR not responsible for Palestine refugees?
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 In 1949, the UN General Assembly established two different UN refugee agencies – the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) – to respond to distinct refugee crises. The UN General Assembly provided these Agencies with complementary mandates to assist and protect refugees.
 
The UNRWA mandate extends to the delivery of services to Palestine refugees within its five fields of operations: the West Bank (including East Jerusalem), Gaza, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. Therefore, Palestine refugees within these fields do not fall under UNHCR’s mandate. However, UNHCR has a mandate regarding Palestine refugees when they are outside the UNRWA areas of operations in certain circumstances.
 
The existence of complementary regimes are laid out in relevant instruments, including the Statute of UNHCR (adopted by a General Assembly resolution) and the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (an international treaty). Neither UNRWA nor UNHCR can unilaterally change these instruments.
Why can UNHCR resettle refugees and UNRWA not?
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 Unlike UNHCR, UNRWA has no authority to seek lasting durable solutions for refugees, including resettlement in third countries. UNRWA is mandated by the UN General Assembly to provide services to Palestine refugees in our five fields of operation, pending a just and lasting solution to their plight.
Would the Palestine refugee question be solved if Palestine refugees would came UNHCR’s mandate?
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No, it would not. First of all, UNHCR does not have a mandate over Palestine refugees within the UNRWA areas of operation. This is neither the result of UNHCR’s or UNRWA’s decision, but the result of decisions of the international community enshrined in the 1951 Refugee Convention and the UNHCR Statute (adopted by the General Assembly). Even if Palestine refugees were to fall under UNHCR’s mandate, they would still be Palestine refugees and retain their rights under General Assembly resolution 194 pending a just and lasting solution to their plight. Any durable solution for refugees sought by UNHCR would still depend on all relevant parties agreeing to such a solution.
 
UNRWA is a direct service provider; at the core of these services are education and health services, essential for the human development of Palestine refugees. UNHCR is not a direct service provider, it is not set up to be one, and it does not have the staff numbers required to deliver these kind of services nor the requisite experience. Direct comparisons of the budgets of the two agencies and the staff required to deliver the respective mandates are deceptive. UNRWA operates as quasi-state body delivering services akin to a state; UNHCR offers protection and assistance. A like for like comparison is disingenuous.
 
In addition, the protracted situation in which Palestine refugees live is not unique. UNHCR estimates that 78 per cent of all refugees under its mandate – 15.9 million refugees - were in protracted refugee situations at the end of 2017. According to UNHCR data, of the 20.1 million refugees under UNHCR protection in 2018, less than three percent of refugees (593,800) were repatriated back to their country of origin. Far fewer were resettled in a third country (92,400) or naturalized as citizens in their country of asylum (62,600). The vast majority remained refugees pending a solution to their plight.
What is UNRWA doing to help refugees live a dignified life in host countries, until a just and lasting solution to their plight is found?
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UNRWA’s mission goes far beyond a humanitarian response. A human development approach lies at the centre of the Agency’s work, as reflected in its Medium-Term Strategy (MTS) for 2016-2021, which also articulates UNRWA commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). UNRWA therefore recognizes that advancing human development for Palestine refugees requires a multi-dimensional approach involving poverty alleviation, respect for human rights, access to quality health and educational services, reductions in inequality, and economic growth. Through its services, encompassing education, health care, relief and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, and microfinance, UNRWA helps Palestine refugees to achieve their full human development potential, become self-reliant, and live in dignity. From using of host country school curricula – so students can pursue further education in public school systems – to modern vocational training, refugees enjoy greater opportunities to achieve basic socio-economic wellbeing.
 
In addition, the Agency is a strong advocate for the protection and promotion of the rights of Palestine refugees until a just solution is found. This involves advocacy with duty bearers to uphold their obligations towards Palestine refugees in all of UNRWA’s fields of operation, including those living in the occupied Palestinian territory and under blockade in the Gaza Strip, facing discrimination and denial of rights that severely affect their living standards in Lebanon, and experiencing acute vulnerability in Jordan, in particular certain categories of Palestine refugees who suffer from exclusion. UNRWA has also advocated for the protection of Palestine refugees impacted by the Syria conflict.
 
No less important are programmes that address specific protection concerns, such as cases of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation of vulnerable groups, including women and children.
 
Despite the steadfast commitment and efforts by UNRWA to the human development of Palestine refugees, the ongoing denial of rights, profound constraints on socioeconomic opportunities, and the exposure to multiple crises – often spilling across borders – in addition to the failure of the international community to find a just and lasting solution to the Palestine refugee situation, have all severely restricted many Palestine refugees from attaining their full potential.
Can UNRWA assess the impact of its efforts on the life of Palestine refugees?
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Yes. Thanks to UNRWA health and education programmes, life expectancy of Palestine refugees at birth is similar to that of nationals of host countries, while overall achievements in literacy are high and generally exceed levels of high- and medium-ranked countries on the human development index. More than two million Palestine refugees have graduated from UNRWA schools since the fifties and a 2014 World Bank report found UNRWA students broadly outperform their peers in public schools and achieve higher-than-average results in international assessments.
 
In 2018, UNRWA’s primary health clinics provided 8.5 million patient consultations and a level of basic care that has reduced maternal and infant mortality among Palestine refugees to national levels in the host countries.
 
With these achievements, Palestine refugees form a reservoir of human capital and despite exclusion and limitations on opportunities they often faced, they have played an important, widely-recognized role in local and regional development over the past 70 years.
 
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, primarily through its nine technical and vocational training centres – which graduated over 85,000 young women and men - and its microfinance services with over 500,000 loans distributed since 1992 at a total value of over half a billion USD. 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 over 29,000 Palestine refugees and others, the majority of them teachers, and it creates significant livelihood opportunities through its construction projects in the region.
 
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.
 
For over 250,000 refugees living in the deepest poverty, UNRWA provides food support.

Neutrality

Neutrality

How does UNRWA ensure that its schools promote UN values such as tolerance, human rights and neutrality?
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In 2013, UNRWA put in place a Framework for Analysis and Quality Implementation of the Curriculum (Curriculum Framework) to support curriculum delivery in its schools. The Curriculum Framework emphasizes the importance of reflecting the UN values, such as neutrality, human rights, tolerance, equality and non-discrimination with regard to race, gender, language and religion, throughout the teaching and learning process in UNRWA schools. It also ensures that the curriculum taught in UNRWA schools acknowledges the Palestinian heritage and culture of the students and meets their learning needs.
 
The Framework was developed with the active engagement of all fields, facilitated by international curriculum development specialists from UNESCO’s International Bureau of Education (IBE) and with UNRWA HQ Education staff, as well as with the support of Legal Affairs, Gender and Disability staff.
 
Since 2000, UNRWA has incorporated human rights education into the school curricula through its Human Rights, Conflict Resolution, and Tolerance Education program, which is recognized internationally. The vision of the HRCRT is to provide a human rights education which empowers Palestine refugee students to enjoy and exercise their rights, uphold human rights values, be proud of their Palestinian identity, and contribute positively to their society and the global community. In addition, all 708 UNRWA schools have a democratically elected student parliament that promotes a culture of respect and tolerance and play an effective role in schools and in the community. In 2017 UNRWA set up the first-ever Agency-wide UNRWA student parliament, with representatives from the West Bank including East Jerusalem, Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.
How does UNRWA ensure that the schoolbooks its uses in its schools promote UN values?
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Through a robust system of review of host country’s textbooks, UNRWA ensures that the delivery of education to its schools reflects the values and principles of the UN, such as neutrality, human rights, tolerance, equality and non-discrimination of race, gender, language and religion.
 
As part of the Agency’s Curriculum Framework, UNRWA reviews all newly issued textbooks by host countries on the basis of three review criteria: neutrality/bias (taking sides or engaging in controversies of a political, racial, religious, or ideological nature), gender (gender stereotypes) and age-appropriateness (content that is violent, frightening, or inappropriate for the child’s age). This robust system of review of host countries’ textbooks is instrumental in ensuring that UNRWA can upkeep its policy of zero tolerance to all forms of racism and discrimination.
 
Through the Teacher Centred Approach, UNRWA prepares its teachers to address identified issues of concern in a way that is in line with UN values and that promotes critical thinking in students. UNRWA education staff receive key documents that enable them to determine, from a small number of options, the enrichment approach most suited to their students in addressing the specific identified issues in the textbooks. UNRWA education staff is trained on the use of these materials and it is mandatory for teachers to address all issues identified.
How does UNRWA prevent the promotion of anti-Semitism and hatred in its schools?
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UNRWA has zero tolerance in this regard and condemns in the strongest terms all forms of racism and bias. UNRWA has a robust system of review of host countries’ textbooks to ensure that the delivery of education to 525,000 students in its schools in Lebanon Jordan, Syria, Gaza and the West Bank, including East-Jerusalem reflects the values and principles of the UN, such as neutrality, human rights, tolerance, equality and non-discrimination regarding race, gender, language and religion. Conduct by UNRWA personnel that violates these principles and values is prohibited and has led to disciplinary action in accordance with the regulatory framework and processes in place to address misconduct. UNRWA actively maintains its zero-tolerance approach.
What were the results of UNRWA reviewing of the textbooks issued by the Palestinian Authority?
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UNRWA reviewed all 149 Palestinian Authority (PA) issued textbooks (grade 1 to 9) for the 2018-2019 school year based on 3 criteria: neutrality/bias, gender and age-appropriateness. The review concluded that 3.6% of the pages contained some material inconsistent with UN values.
 
UNRWA has identified the problematic passages in the textbooks and provided its teaching staff in Gaza and the West Bank, including East-Jerusalem with key documents that enable them to determine, from a small number of options, the enrichment approach most suited to their students in addressing the specific issues identified in the textbooks to ensure that the curriculum delivered in the classroom is aligned with UN values. It is mandatory for teachers to address all issues identified.
Why is UNRWA using national host country curricula?
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UNRWA has used the host country curricula in its schools since its establishment, consistent with UN practice in refugee situations, globally and based on agreement with host countries and UNESCO. This enables students to take state examinations at the end of each cycle and to transition to host country upper secondary and university education. UNRWA reports annually to the UN General Assembly on its education programme, which is regularly endorses by it. Palestine refugees have graduated from UNRWA schools since the 1950s and a World Bank report stated UNRWA students outperform their peers in public schools.
What did the recent US Government Accountability Office say about UNRWA curriculum?
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The de-classified US Government Accountability Office (GAO) report of February 2019, which reviewed US education assistance in West Bank and Gaza, affirms that UNRWA is firmly committed to UN values. GAO confirmed that the UNRWA curriculum framework emphasizes neutrality, human rights, tolerance, equality and non-discrimination with regard to race, gender, language, and religion throughout the teaching and learning process. Through this report, GAO validated the UNRWA scrupulous textbook review process, confirmed that the Agency's curriculum framework emphasizes UN values, and concluded that its textbook review is a proactive process that facilitates the promotion of UN values in Agency schools.
What were the recent findings of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD)?
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The CERD Committee – an independent Committee to oversee the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination – has recently reviewed the State of Palestine’s implementation of the CERD. The Committee has addressed a number of concluding observations on hate speech in school curricula and textbooks to the State of Palestine.
 
While UNRWA uses the Palestinian curriculum, it has a robust system in place to ensure that the education it delivers in its classroom, including through the use of textbooks, is in line with UN values and principles and addresses any bias through the curriculum review process and teacher centred approach.
How does UNRWA ensure the neutrality of its installations, including its schools?
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Neutrality is a critical aspect of the UNRWA mission, as it provides the humanitarian space needed for the Agency to effectively protect and serve Palestine refugees. Given the crucial importance of its installations to provide services to Palestine refugees, the Agency has maintained strong standards of neutrality and have developed strong processes to ensure neutrality is being upheld.
 
UNRWA delivers services to thousands of Palestine refugees at its installations in the five fields of operations every day. This includes schools for primary (and in some cases secondary) education, health centres for primary healthcare, registration offices, camp service offices in camps, microfinance offices, and other installations. In times of conflict, UNRWA installations may serve as designated shelters for those displaced and seeking refuge. It is therefore essential to protect the neutrality of every UNRWA facility, clearly demarcate each building and ensure that installations are only used for the purpose of the implementation of UNRWA mandate, in line with UN values and principles.
 
To this end, UNRWA has clear guidance and documentation on what is acceptable, and the installation managers are responsible for ensuring that their installations follow this guidance, laid out in the Neutrality Framework and the Installation Manager’s Handbook.
 
Bi-annual inspections of all UNRWA premises by senior Agency staff and regular follow-up visits are conducted in accordance with Standard Operating Procedures to ensure strict adherence to neutrality at all times.
What is UNRWA doing to ensure neutrality of its staff?
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UNRWA has a full range of processes and mechanisms in place to ensure adherence and compliance by the Agency’s local and international staff with neutrality requirements at all times, even when using social media. Staff members are prohibited from engaging in any activity which is inconsistent with or might adversely reflect upon the independence and impartiality required by their status as UN staff members. Where violations of neutrality are confirmed, the Agency takes appropriate disciplinary action in accordance with its regulatory framework.
 
To enhance awareness among its personnel, the Agency has rolled out mandatory training courses, including on preserving neutrality on social media. A comprehensive online Ethics course is mandatory for all staff and contains detailed modules on neutrality. As of December 2018, over 90 per cent of Agency-wide staff had completed it.
 
All UNRWA staff also are regularly instructed to refrain from engaging in political activities, including running for and holding of political offices and engagement in political activities incompatible with neutrality obligations. This is conveyed, inter alia, through periodic circulars to all staff in all fields, statements and communiques by the Commissioner-General and Field Directors addressed to staff, and UNRWA’s online portal accessible to all staff.
 
Adherence to neutrality is a question of operational necessity. UNRWA is an organisation that has been mandated to provide protection and assistance since 1950 in a region repeatedly marked by serious conflicts and in a highly politicised environment. Should UNRWA staff take sides in the conflict the consequences could be serious, above all in terms of ensuring unrestricted access to its beneficiaries and inviolability of UNRWA premises.
What steps does UNRWA take against terrorism?
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UNRWA condemns all forms of terrorism and violent extremism. As a neutral and impartial UN agency providing humanitarian assistance, UNRWA has a legal framework for operations that safeguards UN neutrality vis-à-vis staff, third parties, including partners, use of UNRWA installations and the provision of assistance to beneficiaries.
 
The Agency’s adherence to neutrality means that there are restrictions on the provision of assistance to any person named on the United Nations Security Council Consolidated List, which includes the ISIL (Da’esh) and Al-Qaida Sanctions List. Regular checks of names of all UNRWA staff, registered Palestine refugees, microfinance loan recipients, suppliers and other payees are conducted against the United Nations Security Council Consolidated List.

Efficiency, effectiveness and oversight

Efficiency, effectiveness and oversight

Is UNRWA an efficient organisation?
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Yes and it is always seeking ways to become more efficient. Increasing costs effectiveness is enshrined in the Agency’s 2016-2021 Medium Term Strategy. UNRWA reform and efficiency achievements have been documented and acknowledged by the donor community, including the EU, Sweden, the Netherlands, Australia, and Norway, and many other Member States. Over the past 4 years (since 2015) this led to efficiency gains resulting in savings of USD 500 million, despite high efficiencies already in place, and a growing refugee population with increasing needs due to conflict, displacement, occupation and deteriorating socio-economic conditions.
 
Sturdy financial discipline and restrictions on budget growth in a range of areas (including a broad hiring freeze in 2017), continued reforms in procurement and programme areas such as classroom size, and other robust actions have led to increased cost efficiency Agency-wide. A recent independent assessment by a donor consortium, the Multilateral Organisation Performance Assessment Network (MOPAN) published in 2019, qualified the Agency as “competent, resilient and resolute” and recognises UNRWA efforts to increase the efficiency of its programmes in the field of education, health, relief and social services, infrastructures and camp improvement and microfinance.
 
For example, the UNRWA education reforms decreased dropouts and repetition of grades, increased student retention and improved learning outcomes, leading overall to a more efficient and effective system. A clear indicator of its success was a 2014 World Bank assessment of the Agency educational system, stating that UNRWA students perform better than their peers in public schools despite being at a socioeconomic disadvantages. UNRWA Family Health Team and E-Health reforms improved the efficiency in its health clinics, leading to fewer patients/doctor visits per day and hence to longer consultations, better treatment, reduced anti-biotic prescription rates and reduced numbers of visits.
 
Other reforms which increased efficiency include the transition from direct food distribution to cash assistance to support the poorest Palestine refugees, the centralisation of medicine procurement, the reform of the hospitalisation programme in Lebanon and changes to the application of its pay policy to reduce its exposure to financial fluctuations and to improve equity within the workforce.
How efficient is the UNRWA staffing model?
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The UNRWA staffing model is cost-effective, both in terms of pay scales and the ratio of local to international staff.
 
UNRWA has a workforce of around 30,000 locally recruited staff, the overwhelming majority of whom are Palestine refugees who are paid according to a salary scale which is pegged to respective national government salary scales and lower than the UN salary scale for local employees. In addition, the Agency 158 regular international staff positions were paid for through assessed contributions from the UN Regular Budget in 2018.
How does UNRWA protect itself against corruption and ensures financial best practices?
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UNRWA has a zero-tolerance policy for fraud and corruption. UNRWA Anti-Fraud and Anti-Corruption Policy sets out the Agency’s approach and commitment to preventing, detecting, deterring and effectively responding to fraud and corruption. The policy applies to all Agency operations and activities, as well as to all UNRWA personnel, beneficiaries, governmental and non-governmental partners, and suppliers. It reflects UNRWA Regulations, Rules, Organization Directives, Instructions and other parts of its regulatory framework, including the Standards of Conduct for the international civil service (UNRWA Regulatory Framework).
 
The UN Board of Auditors (UNBOA), composed of three independent supreme audit institutions from countries selected by the UN General Assembly, reviews all UNRWA financial statements and performs management reviews annually. Since 2012, the UNBOA has issued unqualified reports, i.e. reports finding UNRWA’s annual financial statements to be accurate, fair and in line with international accounting standards. These reports, together with the Agency’s audited financial statements, are published on the Agency’s website.
 
To manage risk and maintain internal controls, UNRWA utilizes three-lines of defence, a model approved by the UN and comprised of the Agency’s operational managers, senior management, and its Department of Internal Oversight Services (DIOS). DIOS is among others responsible for investigating allegations of fraud and corruption and for raising awareness of the risks of fraud and corruption through guidance and/or training to Agency personnel.
 
UNRWA is also a participating agency of the Joint Inspection Unit of the United Nations System, which is the only external independent oversight body of the UN system mandated with conducting inspections and evaluations and investigations system-wide.
 
Since 2012, UNRWA has been compliant with the International Public-Sector Accounting Standards (IPSAS) enhancing the quality and transparency of its financial reporting to the Member States of the UN General Assembly. The Advisory Commission on Internal Oversight (ACIO) serves as an expert advisory panel, and reviews and advises the Commissioner-General on the Agency’s policies and strategies to prevent, identify and respond to fraudulent, collusive and other corrupt practices by its employees and external parties and the arrangements to raise concerns, in confidence, about wrongdoing and conduct of operations.
 
Financial oversight of UNRWA is also exercised through the Agency’s Advisory Commission, comprised of UNRWA’s host countries and largest donors, and its Subcommittee on Finance. Major donors and hosts are therefore closely involved in preparing the Agency’s biennial budget, which is then reviewed by the relevant UN committees and submitted to the UN General Assembly.
 
Procurement is an area of sharp focus in preventing and responding to fraud. UNRWA’s procurement is closely monitored and systems are in place to ensure adherence to a range of internal and external controls, from competitive bidding to the application of contractual obligations to vendors based on the UN Vendor code of conduct. Other instruments prevent exchange of gifts and hospitality; among other instruments are staff regulations, mandatory financial disclosure and declaration of conflict of interest, documentation of the procurement process and post-employment restrictions.
The segregation of duties principle is a key preventive measure in soliciting and approving procurement bids, and internal review committees verify procurement actions conform to the applicable rules and regulations.
 
A mechanism is in place to allow whistle blowing / reporting on corrupt, fraudulent, collusive or coercive practices with roles played by UNRWA’s independent Department of Internal Oversight, and the Vendor Sanctions and Complaints Committee. The General Conditions on Contracts set an obligation for all Vendors to cooperate and facilitate any investigation UNRWA may decide to carry out.
Is UNRWA an effective organisation delivering on its mandate?
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Yes. In June 2019, an independent performance assessment of UNRWA conducted by the Multilateral Organisation Performance Assessment Network (MOPAN) and commissioned by some of the world’s top donors concluded that the Agency is “competent, resilient and resolute”. The report considers UNRWA engagement in the region as highly relevant as it delivers critical support for the Palestine refugee population, to the host authorities and to the wider development processes of the region.

MOPAN comprises 18 countries that share a common interest in assessing the effectiveness of the major multilateral organisations they fund. These include United Nations agencies, international financial institutions and global funds. The network that generates, collects, analyses and presents relevant and credible information on effectiveness and performance has just released its second assessment report of UNRWA.

The assessment commended UNRWA for its strong management, robust and resilient organizational architecture, strategic vision and effective programme delivery, as well as the capacity and commitment of its workforce and its strategic approach to resource mobilization. It also affirmed the strength of the Agency’s approach to results, risk and financial management, concluding that UNRWA is uniquely well-placed to ensure that the humanitarian, human development and protection needs of Palestine refugees are met.

How does UNRWA’s school system compare to other regional ones?
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In 2014, the World Bank praised UNRWA education system noting UNRWA students consistently outperform their peers in public schools and attain above-average results in international assessments.
 
This is the result of a major reform of the UNRWA education programme, launched in 2011, aiming to deliver the best quality education for Palestine refugees, to help them develop their full potential. The achievements of the students reflect the achievements of the reform: across all fields, student survival rates have increased; cumulative drop-out rates are at the lowest and the coefficient of internal efficiency is at its highest since the reform began. This also means that the UNRWA education system has become more efficient with more students graduating on time.

UNRWA Eligibility and Registration Q&A

UNRWA was established in December 1949 by the UN General Assembly Resolution 302 (IV) to carry out direct relief and works programmes for Palestine refugees. In the absence of a just and durable solution to the Palestine refugee problem, the General Assembly has repeatedly renewed UNRWA’s mandate, most recently extending it until June 2023. UNRWA programmes now encompass basic education, primary health care, relief and social services, and emergency response, including in situations of armed conflict. The Agency’s five fields of operation are Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank and Gaza.

This paper answers frequently asked questions pertaining to UNRWA’s eligibility and registration. Q1-Q9 define the categories of persons who are eligible to register with UNRWA and/or to receive services. Q10-Q16 describe how UNRWA’s registration records are stored, updated and displayed. Q17-Q20 explain how UNRWA can assist in verifying information about registered persons seeking asylum outside its fields of operation. Annexes 1-4 show copies of UNRWA’s Family Registration Card and other documents that registered persons may hold.

Who is eligible to exceptionally receive UNRWA’s services without being registered?
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UNRWA’s Consolidated Eligibility and Registration Instructions (CERI) also identifies the following categories of persons who are eligible to receive services on an exceptional basis without being registered:

  1. Palestinians displaced as result of 1967 and subsequent hostilities as stated in United Nations General Assembly Resolution 2252 and in other subsequent resolutions;
  2. Other persons identified by the Commissioner-General as eligible to receive services for humanitarian and other policy reasons related to UNRWA’s mandate.
What are the number and characteristics of UNRWA’s registered population?
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UNRWA’s Registered Population Dashboard displays the number and characteristics of Palestine refugees and other registered persons using interactive charts and tables which are updated quarterly. As of June 2020, UNRWA’s registered population is 6,336,238, including 5,663,790 Palestine refugees and 672,448 other registered persons. About 38% are registered in Jordan, 26% in Gaza, 17% in West Bank, 10% in Syria and 9% in Lebanon. Females and males account for 50% of registered persons respectively. In terms of age distribution, 30% of registered persons are below 18 years, 57% are between 18 and 59 years and 13% are 60 years are above. The average family size is 4.3 persons.

What are the number and characteristics of UNRWA’s serviced population?
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It is important to distinguish between registered and serviced population. Not all those who are registered with UNRWA receive the Agency’s services, and not all those who receive services are registered (see Q7). UNRWA is currently designing a Serviced Population Dashboard which will displays the number and characteristics of those receiving services in any given year.

Where are UNRWA’s registration records stored?
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Since its inception, UNRWA has stored registration records of several generations of Palestine refugees and other persons of concern. The physical files are archived in UNRWA’s five field offices in Amman, Beirut, Damascus, Jerusalem and Gaza. Most documents were digitised in the early 2000s, and electronic copies were stored in the Agency’s web-based Refugee Registration Information System (RRIS), which allows UNRWA staff to view and update registration information from over 60 area offices Agency-wide. The RRIS was designed for internal operational use only, and has not been upgraded for over ten years. UNRWA is currently planning to enhance its system based on international standards for civil registration, and provide refugees and other persons of concern with e-access to their own files (see Q12 and Q14).

How often are registration records updated?
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UNRWA’s registration records are based on official documentation supplied voluntarily by Palestine refugees and other persons of concern. New births, deaths, marriages, divorces and changes of residence are recorded any time a registered person submits relevant proof documents and requests the updating of the family registration card issued by the Agency. Given the voluntary nature of registration, UNRWA records are not necessarily up to date and should not be considered a civil registry. The main incentive to update registration information is when access to UNRWA’s services is being sought and as far as this affects service eligibility.

Is it necessary to approach UNRWA offices to update registration records?
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In June 2020, UNRWA launched a secure and user-friendly Online Registration Application in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank and Gaza that can be used to submit proof documents and update registration records without having to approach UNRWA offices in person. It is a first step towards developing an integrated registration portal which will allow Palestine refugees and other persons of concern to directly access their records and download electronic documents pertaining to their family history over the last 70 years.

What challenges may eligible persons face in updating their registration records?
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Transfer of registration records from one field to another requires official approval from the relevant host authorities. Since this is rarely granted, the field of registration of Palestine refugees and other persons of concern typically reflects the place where their ancestors first registered with UNRWA and not necessarily their current location. Palestine refugees and other persons of concern who are not legal residents in the country or territory where they live may also face challenges in obtaining identity papers and other official documentation required to update UNRWA’s records such as marriage, divorce, birth and death certificates.

Why are registration records organised under family ledgers?
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As per UNRWA’s Consolidated Eligibility and Registration Instructions (CERI), the status of Palestine refugee is hereditary through the patrilineage and so is the status of frontier villager, Jerusalem poor and Gaza poor (see Q2, Q4 and Q5). Non-refugee wives, non-refugee husbands and non-refugee children are eligible to register for services because of their family relationships (see Q3). Accordingly, individual registration records are organised under family ledgers and linked to ancestral files dating back to pre-1948 Mandatory Palestine. UNRWA is currently planning to restructure its registration system so as to issue individual registration cards, while preserving information about family relationships and links to ancestral files.

What information is displayed in UNRWA’s Family Registration Card?
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UNRWA’s family registration card displayed family and individual information in English and Arabic (see Annex 1). Given the voluntary nature of UNRWA registration and the challenges faced by some in obtaining official documents from host authorities, the information is not necessarily up to date (see Q11 and Q13).
Family Information:

  •  Name of Head of Family
  •  Family Registration Number
  •  Previous Family Registration Number
  •  Place of Origin in Palestine
  •  Registration Field and Area
  •  Residential Address

Individual Information:

  •  Individual Registration Number
  •  Name
  •  Date of Birth
  •  Sex
  •  Relation to the Head of Family
  •  Marital Status
  •  Registration Category
What other UNRWA documents may registered persons hold?
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Some registered persons may still hold the previous version of UNRWA’s Family Registration Card (see Annex 2). Others may hold a Family Registration Certificate or a Family Composition Printout from the RRIS (see Annexes 3 and 4), as well as documents attesting what UNRWA services they have or have not received.

How prevalent are fraudulent UNRWA documents?
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UNRWA’s Family Registration Cards have several security features that make them extremely difficult to replicate. Family Registration Certificates, Family Composition Printouts and other documents with UNRWA logo/stamp are potentially easier to falsify. However, only very few cases of document fraud have occurred in recent years. In case of doubt, UNRWA can be contacted to verify the document authenticity.

How can registration status be verified?
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UNRWA assists governmental authorities, UNHCR and other organisations to verify registration records of Palestine refugees and other persons of concern seeking asylum outside its fields of operation. Registration verification requests can be sent to [email protected]. After a thorough search in the RRIS, UNRWA staff respond to the issuer with a verification certificate attesting the person’s registration status. To safeguard confidentiality and privacy rights, requests are only processed upon receipt of a signed copy of the Registration Verification Form by the person whose registration status is to be verified. UNRWA is currently developing an online verification portal which will be fully integrated with its new registration system and will allow requests to be managed in a more streamlined and efficient manner.

What information about registered persons may UNRWA provide?
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Besides verifying registration status, when available UNRWA may provide copies of civil certificates or other documents attesting where a registered person was born, lived and received services. In all cases, previous written consent by the person in question is required.

Does registration with UNRWA guarantee legal residence and protection?
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Registration with UNRWA does not guarantee legal residence or physical protection in the country or territory of registration. UNRWA does not manage refugee camps and is not responsible for law and order in its fields of operation, which fall within the sovereignty of the respective host authorities. The Agency is not in a position to make a statement in relation to the specific legal status of each registered person and his/her ability to receive protection from the host authority, but may assist in identifying particularly vulnerable groups.

Who are Compromise Cases?
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Compromise Cases are persons of Lebanese origin who were working in Palestine but not permanently residing there until 15 May 1948, who suffered loss of livelihood and hardship as a result of the 1948 conflict. Persons who are currently registered in this category are eligible to receive UNRWA services. Their descendants, however, are not eligible to register to receive UNRWA services. UNRWA does not accept new applications from persons wishing to be registered in this category.

Who are Jerusalem Poor and Gaza Poor?
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Jerusalem Poor and Gaza Poor are persons whose normal place of residence until 15 May 1948 was East Jerusalem or Gaza City, who lost their work or properties and suffered hardship as a result of the 1948 conflict. Persons who are currently registered in this category are eligible to receive UNRWA services. Descendants of such already registered persons through the male line are also eligible to register to receive UNRWA services. Except for such descendants, UNRWA does not accept new applications from persons wishing to be registered in this category.

Who are Frontier Villagers?
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Frontier Villagers are persons who lived in towns or villages along the 1949 armistice lines in the West Bank who lost farming properties or suffered other hardship as a result of the 1948 conflict. Persons who are currently registered in this category are eligible to receive UNRWA services. Descendants of such persons through the male line are also eligible to register to receive UNRWA services. Except for such descendants, UNRWA does not accept new applications from persons wishing to be registered in this category.
Who are Non-Refugee Family Members?
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Non-Refugee Family Members include Non-Refugee Wives, Non-Refugee Husbands and Non-Refugee Children. Non-Refugee Wives are women who are (or were) married to a registered refugee. Non-Refugee Husbands and Non-Refugee Children are husbands and descendants, including legally adopted children, of women who are registered refugees and are (or were) married to a non-refugee. These non-refugee family members and their descendants are eligible to register to receive UNRWA services.

Who are Palestine Refugees according to UNRWA’s definition?
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Palestine Refugees are persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948 and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict. Palestine Refugees, and descendants of Palestine refugee males, including legally adopted children, are eligible to register for UNRWA services. The Agency accepts new applications from persons who wish to be registered as Palestine Refugees.

Who is eligible to register and receive UNRWA’s services?
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According to UNRWA’s Consolidated Eligibility and Registration Instructions (CERI) of 2009, the following categories of persons are eligible to register with UNRWA and receive the Agency’s services:

(1) Palestine refugees
(2) Non-Refugee Family Members
(3) Frontier Villagers
(4) Jerusalem Poor and Gaza Poor
(5) Compromise Cases

It should be noted that the provision of services is dependent on UNRWA’s budget as well as other UNRWA’s Instructions, Regulations and Rules. It therefore varies over time and between fields what services are available and to which categories of persons.