Created in December 1949, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) is a relief and human development agency, originally intended to provide jobs on public works projects and direct relief for 652,000 Arabs who fled or were expelled from Israel during the fighting that followed the end of the British mandate over Palestine. Today it provides education, health care, social services and emergency aid to 5 million Palestinian refugees from the 1948 and 1967 wars and their descendents. The agency provides aid to the refugees living in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, as well as those in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. It is the only agency dedicated to helping refugees from a specific region or conflict. It is separate from UNHCR, (1950), the UN Refugee Agency, which is the only other UN agency aiding refugees, dedicated to aiding all refugees in the world.
UNRWA was established following the 1948 Arab-Israeli War by the United Nations General Assembly under Resolution 302(IV) of 8 December 1949. This resolution also reaffirmed paragraph 11, concerning refugees, of UN General Assembly Resolution 194 (1948), adopted and passed unopposed, supported by Israel and the Arab states, with only the Soviet bloc and South Africa abstaining. UNRWA has had to develop a working definition of "refugee" to allow it to provide humanitarian assistance. Its definition does not cover final status. Its operational definition of Palestine refugee for persons qualifying for UNRWA assistance says "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, and 1967 conflicts," descendants are also eligible for registration. Most of UNRWA's funding comes from European countries and the United States.
The UNRWA definition is meant solely to determine eligibility for UNRWA assistance. However, some argue it serves to perpetuate the conflict. Under General Assembly Resolution 194 (III), of 11 December 1948, other persons may be eligible for repatriation and/or compensation but are not necessarily eligible for relief under the UNRWA's working definition. Thus a person who is not or who has ceased to qualify for the benefits afforded by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, may still qualify for assistance as a refugee by the UNRWA definition.
All Palestine refugees (as defined) who are registered with UNRWA and are in need of assistance are eligible for help from UNRWA. In 2010, there were almost 5 million qualified Palestine refugees registered with the UNRWA. UNRWA provides facilities in 59 recognized refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. It also provided relief to Jewish and Arab Palestine refugees inside the state of Israel following the 1948 conflict until the Israeli government took over responsibility for Jewish refugees in 1952.
For a camp to be recognized by UNRWA, there must be an agreement between the host government and UNRWA governing use of the camp. UNRWA does not itself run any camps, has no police powers or administrative role, but simply provides services to the camp. Refugee camps, which developed from tent cities to rows of concrete blockhouses to urban ghettos indistinguishable from their surroundings, house around one third of all registered Palestine refugees. UNRWA also provides facilities in other areas where large numbers of registered Palestine refugees live outside of recognized camps.
Read more about United Nations Relief And Works Agency For Palestine Refugees In The Near East: Organisation and Funding, Operations, UNRWA and The Palestinian Curriculum, Criticism, Praise, Relations With Israel, Investigation By The United States Congress, Kirk Amendment To Investigate Number of Refugees, Loss of Canadian Support, Problems With Hamas
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