UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Work Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East)

The UNRWA began operations in May 1950 to give emergency assistance to the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians displaced by the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict. The mandate of the Agency, deriving from resolution 302 adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in December 1949, has been renewed repeatedly.

Pending a solution to the critical Palestine question, UNRWA continues to provide essential education, health and relief services to Palestine refugees living in five fields: Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

UNRWA’s largest programme is education, taking about two-thirds of the annual budget, followed by health (20%) and relief (10%).

98 % of UNRWA’s employees are themselves refugees.

In the past three decades, the number of Palestine refugees registered with UNRWA has grown to 3,625,000 (September 1999) through natural population growth, and a gradual influx due to the Gulf war of 1991 and the new conditions created by the peace process. Voluntary contributions that fund the Agency however seldom keep pace with the increasing demands, despite the fact that many international observers have credited UNRWA as a stabilising factor in the volatile Middle East. The refugees themselves consider UNRWA programmes to be the international community’s guarantee that their claim to a just settlement has not been forgotten.

The establishment of Palestinian self-government has presented UNRWA with new challenges. A large proportion of activities the organization used to carry out should gradually pass over to the autonomous Palestinian authorities. This must be done in step with the newly established Palestinian administration developing the necessary expertise and creating the financial basis for managing these activities. Another question is to what extent such a transfer will be possible and desirable, irrespective of general progress in the peace process. At an informal donor meeting in 1995, UNRWA’s proposal for a planning horizon of five years (1995-99) was adopted in line with the planned transition period up to the establishment of Palestinian self-government provided for in the peace process.


The total regular budget for 1997 was 249.65 million US $

The overall budget (regular budget and donations for special projects) was: 23 million US $

Major donors to UNRWA’s regular budget in 1997:

Million US $ % of 1997 regular budget (total of 249 million US $)
European Union and EU member states

in which:

116.78 46.8%

EU 53.80 22%
Sweden 17.50 7.0%
United Kingdom 9.57 3.8%
Netherlands 8.22 3.3%
Denmark 7.52 3.0%
Germany 5.63 2.3%
Italy 4.80 1.9%
Spain 3.24 1.3%
Finland 1.92 0.7%
France 1.89 0.7%
Belgium 0.84 0.3%
Ireland 0.74 0.2%
Luxembourg 0.71 0.2%
Austria 0.40 0.1%
United States 75.00 30%
Norway 12.03 4.8%
Japan 10.60 4.2%
Canada 7.25 2.9%
Switzerland 5.83 2.3%
Australia 2.04 0.8%
Saudi Arabia 1.80 0.7%
Kuwait 1.50 0.6%

For more information:

UNRWA website

Palestinian Refugees Research Net