On 8 December 2019, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) marked 70 years in service for Palestine refugees. Following the Arab-Israeli conflict of 1948, UNRWA was established by the United Nations General Assembly to carry out direct relief and works programmes for Palestine refugees. Today, some 5.6 million Palestine refugees in the Agency’s five fields of operations – Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem – are eligible for the Agency’s services.
Over the past seven decades, Palestine refugees have experienced extremes in violence, suffering and injustice. As a result, they are confronted with daunting human development and protection challenges, which stand to arrest their significant potential. Humanitarian conditions across much of the UNRWA areas of operation are grave, exacerbated by protracted conflict and the lack of political progress.
UNRWA emergency and essential services include primary and vocational education, primary health care, relief and social services, infrastructure and camp improvement, microfinance and emergency response, including in situations of armed conflict.
Gaza Strip is home to a population of approximately 1.9 million people, including some 1.4 million Palestine refugees. For the last decade, the socioeconomic situation in Gaza has been in steady decline. The blockade on land, air and sea imposed by Israel following the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip in 2007 entered its 13th year in June 2019 and continues to have a devastating effect as access to markets and people’s movement to and from the Gaza Strip remain severely restricted.
The West Bank is home to nearly 775,000 registered refugees, around a quarter of whom live in 19 camps. Most of the others live in West Bank towns and villages. Some camps are located next to major towns and others are in rural areas. While the West Bank has the largest number of recognized Palestine refugee camps in the five UNRWA fields, the largest of them, Balata, has a population similar to that of the smallest camp in Gaza.
UNRWA has been active in Syria since it started its field operations in 1950. Since the start of the conflict in 2011, UNRWA has stepped up its operations to ensure the needs of Palestine refugees in the country are met. The Agency is the main provider of humanitarian assistance, protection and basic services to 438,000 Palestine refugees who remain in the country, and who have been among those worst affected by the crisis. Almost 60 per cent of Palestine refugees in Syria have been displaced at least once.
Over 470,000 refugees are registered with UNRWA in Lebanon, with 180,000 estimated for planning purposes to be residing in the country. About 45 per cent of them live in the country’s 12 refugee camps. Conditions in the camps are dire and characterized by overcrowding, poor housing conditions, unemployment, poverty and lack of access to justice.
Palestinians in Lebanon do not enjoy several important rights; for example, they cannot work in as many as 39 professions and cannot own property. Because they are not formally citizens of another state, Palestine refugees are unable to claim the same rights as other foreigners living and working in Lebanon.
More than 2 million registered Palestine refugees live in Jordan. Most Palestine refugees in Jordan, but not all, have full citizenship. There are ten recognized Palestine refugee camps throughout the country, which accommodate nearly 370,000 Palestine refugees, or 18 per cent of the country total. Jordan hosts the largest number of Palestine refugees of all of the UNRWA fields.
* The designations employed and the presentation of material on this map do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of the Secretariat of the United Nations concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries.