United Nations Relief and Works Agency


UNRWA logoFollowing the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict, UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, was established by United Nations General Assembly resolution 302 (IV) of 8 December 1949 to carry out direct relief and works programs for Palestine refugees. The Agency began operations on 1 May 1950.


Since its establishment, the Agency has delivered its services in times of relative calm in the Middle East, and in times of hostilities. It has fed, housed and clothed tens of thousands of fleeing refugees and at the same time educated and given health care to hundreds of thousands of young refugees.


Lebanese man thanking UNRWAUNRWA is unique in terms of its long-standing commitment to one group of refugees and its contributions to the welfare and human development of four generations of Palestine refugees. Originally envisaged as a temporary organization, the Agency has gradually adjusted its programs to meet the changing needs of the refugees.


Today, UNRWA is a relief and human development agency, providing education, healthcare, social services and emergency aid to over 4,3 million refugees living in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and the Syrian Arab Republic. Over 500.000 children are enrolled in UNRWA schools in these five areas of operations.


UNRWA is by far the largest UN operation in the Middle East, with over 27.000 staff, almost all of them refugees themselves, working directly to benefit their communities - as teachers, doctors, nurses or social workers.


To qualify for UNRWA registration, refugees must have been resident in Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948 and to have lost both their homes and their livelihood as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. The descendants of 1948 refugees are also eligible for registration with UNRWA, but only refugees living in its five fields of operations (Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank and Gaza Strip) are eligible for the Agency's services. The number of registered refugees has grown from 914.000 in 1950 to over 4,2 million in 2005.


Women registring with UNRWAOnly one third of the refugees live in one of the 59 recognized camps scattered across the Middle East. The other two-thirds live in the cities, towns and villages of the host countries, many in close proximity to the camps. UNRWA provides services to refugees regardless of whether they live in camps or not.


The camps are plots of land assigned to the refugees by the host authorities. They are not administered or controlled by UNRWA, the Agency simply provides services to those who live in the camps, but administration, law and order and security in the camps is the responsibility of the authorities wherever they are located. The camps started life as tent cities but have developed into crowded urban ghettos, some of which suffer from poor sanitation, dire levels of poverty and very high population densities. Most of UNRWA’s schools and clinics are located near or in the camps.


UNRWA food aidUNRWA provides education, health, relief and social services to eligible refugees among the 4,3 million registered Palestine refugees in its five fields of operations: Jordan, Lebanon, the Syrian Arab Republic, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Some 1.3 million refugees, around one third of the total, live in 59 recognized camps, and UNRWA's services are located in or near these camps where there are large concentrations of refugees.


Unlike other United Nations organizations, which work through local authorities or executing agencies, UNRWA provides its services directly to Palestine refugees. It plans and carries out its own activities and projects, and builds and administers facilities such as schools and clinics. The Agency currently operates or sponsors over 900 installations with some 24.215 staff throughout its area of operations. Because UNRWA services such as education and health care are the type of services normally provided within the public sector, the Agency cooperates closely with governmental authorities in the area of operations, who also provide some services to Palestine refugees.




The official website of UNRWA.

UNRWA in Wikipedia.



Stamp catalogue


Belgium                              26 April 1965









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last revised: 23 November 2008