Explained | What is the purpose of UNRWA?

UNRWA was established in 1949 as a temporary agency to provide aid to Palestinians. Photo: AFP

Philippe Lazzarini, Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) appealed for consistent and sustainable financing of the UN agency to keep its operations running and avert chronic shortfalls. 

Lazzarini was speaking at UN Headquarters following a meeting to support its lifesaving work, which is almost entirely funded by donor contributions.

The agency had been seeking up to $190 million by the end of the year, and another $100 million to keep food pipelines flowing in Gaza, Syria and Lebanon.

Lazzarini recently took the decision to open UNRWA schools even though he was unsure if they will remain open for the rest of the year. More than half a million children depend on the UN agency for education.

What is the purpose of UNRWA?

• 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 which supports Palestinian refugees, and their patrilineal descendants, who fled or were expelled from their homes during the 1948 Palestine war as well as those who fled or were expelled during and following the 1967 Six Day War.

• The UNRWA has been providing health, education, relief and social services, as well as emergency humanitarian assistance, across its five fields of operation — Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank and the Gaza Strip — since it began operations in 1950. 

• 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.

• In the absence of a solution to the Palestine refugee problem, the UN General Assembly has repeatedly renewed UNRWA’s mandate.

• Today, nearly six million people in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, depend on its services, which are almost entirely funded by voluntary contributions. Nearly a third of registered Palestine refugees live in camps.

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