United Nations Aid for Palestine Refugees in the Middle East

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United Nations Aid for Palestine Refugees in the Middle East

Organization type United Nations aid agency under a mandate from the UN General Assembly
Abbreviation UNRWA
management SwitzerlandSwitzerlandPhilippe Lazzarini
since 2020
Founded December 8, 1949
Headquarters Amman , Gaza
Upper organization United NationsU.N. United Nations

The UNRWA , English United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East , UNRWA , is a temporary assistance program the United Nations , which has been regularly extended by three years since its inception in 1949 ( last in December 2019). The headquarters of the relief organization are in Gaza and Amman . Since March 18, 2020, UNRWA has been headed by the Swiss Philippe Lazzarini as Commissioner General.

History and mandate

The special fund UNRPR (United Nations Relief for Palestine Refugees) was set up on September 19, 1948 to take care of Palestinian refugees as a result of the First Palestine War . The aim of the fund was to coordinate relief efforts. However, since this was not enough, UNRWA was established by the UN General Assembly on December 8, 1949, and began its work on May 1, 1950. UNRWA has the mandate to provide support and protection to the originally around 0.5 million and now (as of 2019) 5.5 million registered Palestine refugees. UNRWA's fields of activity include education, medical care, relief and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, small loans, protection and humanitarian aid. The UN General Assembly regularly extends the mandate of UNRWA for three years.

Definition of Palestine refugee

According to UNRWA's definition, Palestine refugees are those "whose permanent residence was in Palestine between June 1, 1946 and May 15, 1948 and who lost their place of residence and livelihood as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War". Similar to the descendants of refugees under the mandate of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) , UNRWA also registers the descendants of Palestine refugees and adopted persons. Other groups with special status also have the right to register and receive assistance as long as they are in UNRWA's areas of operation and meet the organisation's neediness criteria.

In May 2019, UNRWA put the number of refugees it was tasked with protecting as 5.4 million.


UNRWA has facilities in Jordan , Syria , Lebanon , the Gaza Strip and the West Bank . The regular budget totaled about $ 587 million in 2013. In addition, there was another 632 million US dollars for projects. The bulk of the financing will be through voluntary payments by the Member States of the United Nations ensured.

In 2013, the United States was the largest national donor with $ 294 million, followed by Saudi Arabia , which contributed $ 151 million. The European Union participated in 2013 with grants totaling 216 million US dollars (as of December 31, 2013). In early 2018, under the administration of Donald Trump , the US cut funding for UNRWA and spoke of plans to revoke refugee status from millions of Palestinians. In August 2018 they announced the end of their funding for UNRWA. The German Federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas then spoke out in favor of greater commitment on the part of Germany and the European Union, since failure of the organization could trigger an "uncontrollable chain reaction". A few weeks later, according to media reports, Trump offered the Palestinians $ 5 billion in aid to get them back to the negotiating table with Israel. The media also reported criticism that Trump was using humanitarian aid as a weapon through these acts.

Germany is contributing 91 million euros in 2020, which will primarily be used for food security . 20 million euros of this is earmarked for containing Covid-19 and alleviating the humanitarian consequences of the pandemic .

The relief agency was founded as a temporary organization that was supposed to assist the refugees / displaced persons until the settlement of the Palestine question. Their work initially consisted of providing emergency aid, i.e. food, shelter, clothing and the most important medical supplies. Today more than half of the UNRWA annual budget goes to education, 20% to health care and 10% to social welfare; the remainder are used to cover the administrative costs.

The headquarters of the relief organization was initially Beirut , but was relocated to Vienna in 1978 due to the unrest in Lebanon and then to Gaza in 1996 . Another head office exists in Amman . Around 500 people are employed at the official headquarters. Most of the 28,800 employees are Palestinians, only 153 posts are international.

General commissioners

  • May 1950 to June 1951: Howard Kennedy, Canada
  • July 1951 to March 20, 1953: John Blandford, USA
  • 1954 to 1958: Henry Richardson Labouisse, USA
  • February 1959 to December 1963: John H. Davis, USA
  • January 1964 to April 1971: Laurence Michelmore, USA
  • April 1971 to April 1977: John Shaw Rennie, Great Britain
  • April 1977 to April 1979: Thomas McElhiney, USA
  • June 1979 to October 1985: Olof Rydbeck, Sweden
  • October 1985 to February 28, 1991: Giorgio Giacomelli , Italy
  • March 1, 1991 to February 29, 1996: Ilter Türkmen , Turkey
  • February 29, 1996 to March 31, 2005: Peter Hansen, Denmark
  • June 28, 2005 to January 20, 2010: Karen Koning AbuZayd, USA
  • 2010 to March 29, 2014: Filippo Grandi , Italy
  • March 30, 2014 to November 2019: Pierre Krähenbühl , Switzerland
  • since March 2020: Philippe Lazzarini, Switzerland

Fields of activity

Total number of Palestinian refugees and their descendants according to UNRWA (1950–2008).

UNRWA's work focuses on the following areas:

  • education
  • Medical supplies
  • Welfare and social services
  • Warehouse infrastructure and improvement
  • Small loans
  • protection 
  • Humanitarian aid


UNRWA operates one of the largest school systems in the Middle East. Every day around 500,000 children receive their education in one of the almost 700 UNRWA schools in the region, whose curriculum has been brought into line with that of the state schools. One UNRWA school building often houses two schools, and lessons then take place in two shifts. Through eight UNRWA centers in the region, UNRWA also promotes technical and manual training (TVET - Technical Vocational Education and Training) for around 7,200 Palestine refugees.

Over time, UNRWA schools have earned a reputation for high academic achievement and low drop-out rates, while maintaining gender parity since the 1960s. UNRWA schools consistently outperform public schools by more than an additional school year, according to a 2014 World Bank report.

After secondary school, Palestinian children can attend upper school of a public middle school and apply for a UNRWA scholarship to college. Or they can try to get one of the approximately 5,600 places in one of the eight vocational schools or teacher training institutions of the aid organization. Many graduates from these schools found jobs in the Gulf States and other Arab countries.

Medical supplies

UNRWA claims to provide basic medical care for 3.5 million patients through a network of medical centers and mobile ambulances. UNRWA operates more than 140 health centers in the Middle East. UNRWA medical staff handle more than 9 million patient visits each year. In addition, the relief organization subsidizes the access of lower-income Palestine refugees to secondary and tertiary medical care. Refugees / displaced persons in need of inpatient treatment have beds in 42 public and private hospitals that are subsidized by UNRWA.

Welfare and social services

This support focuses on the poorest refugees. This includes the provision of basic food, financial support and, if necessary, accommodation.

In 2013 UNRWA looked after around 292,000 welfare recipients (special hardship cases) in the refugee / displaced community. Furthermore, around 22,000 families in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank are supplied with food. In the Gaza Strip alone there were around 750,000 people in 2009. The number rose steadily, in November 2012 around 800,000 and in summer 2014 around 830,000 people in the Gaza Strip were supplied with food by UNRWA. In 2016, 970,000 people in the Gaza area alone received various forms of UNRWA assistance at times. In May 2019, more than a million people received UNRWA food aid.

Small loans

UNRWA has been granting loans to sole proprietorships and small businesses since 1991. Loans worth over 420 million euros were granted through the UNRWA micro-credit program.

Warehouse infrastructure and improvement

UNRWA is renovating accommodation and improving the infrastructure and living conditions in the 58 camps of the host countries for Palestine refugees.

Humanitarian aid

In times of crisis, UNRWA provides humanitarian aid (money, food, accommodation) that is tailored to the needs of the refugees, especially in Syria and the occupied Palestinian territory. If necessary, it uses mobile clinics, opens new medical care centers and increases the subsidies and provision of secondary and tertiary care.


Refugee status

A number of sources are of the opinion that actions by UNRWA have no effect and merely perpetuate the existing situation instead of promoting integration and thus reducing the number of refugees. According to a study by the Washington Institute in 2009, the organization has constantly expanded its field of activity and is now taking on classic government tasks such as health care, education, urban planning and social assistance.

Another point of criticism is the constant expansion of the term refugee and thus the number of persons entitled to care. While there was originally a dispute about whether grandchildren of refugees count as refugees at all; In 2014, the refugee status of Palestinians was passed on by adoption at UNRWA to people who had previously not been entitled to UNRWA support.

Relationship with Hamas

The UNRWA was established in Gaza several years ago by the anti-Semitic Hamas infiltrated and had to admit to have Hamas members paid. In 2004, Peter Hansen , the then head of the organization and Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations , announced that Hamas sympathizers were holding high positions at UNRWA. Canada then offered the prospect of a complete cut of support and Peter Hansen was forced to leave his post. In the same year, US Treasury officials revealed some donations that could be linked to international terrorist organizations; similar cases were also reported in 2006.

Missile finds in schools

During the Gaza conflict in the summer of 2014, it became known that Palestinian terrorist organizations were repeatedly using UNRWA facilities, such as schools, as hiding places for rockets. There were allegations that UNRWA employees did not render the weapons unusable, but handed them over to Hamas. According to Israeli information, UNRWA also refused to hand over photos of the location to Israel, in some cases not even the number of rockets was determined, as the staff were withdrawn immediately. Criticism of the neutrality of UNRWA was also based on emotional appearances by UNRWA representatives, who were accused by Israel of anti-Israeli and unilateral statements. In particular, the removal of UNRWA spokesman Christopher Gunness was requested after he accused Israel of depriving the Palestinians and their children of basic rights and then burst into tears in front of the cameras.

school books

There is also regular criticism of teaching at UNRWA schools. For example, Israel cannot be recognized as a state in school textbooks, Jewish cities founded after 1948 have been erased, and the Hebrew language along with English and Arabic has simply been erased on images of postage stamps from the British mandate.

On October 17, 2018, the Mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat , showed a textbook that is in use in UNRWA schools to a Knesset committee . There will u. a. praised terrorist Dalal al-Mughrabi, who led the coastal road attack that killed 38 Israeli civilians, including ten children, in a bus.

Criticism of the USA

In December 2017, US President Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital, triggering protests in the Palestinian territories. The US then threatened, through Ambassador Nikki Haley, with cutting additional financial resources, including those for UNRWA, if the Palestinians did not return to the negotiating table. About half of the US pledged payments to UNRWA, around $ 65 million, were withheld by the US in mid-January 2018. In addition to the unwillingness of the Palestinian representatives to negotiate, the United States also cited an unjust burden-sharing as a reason. At the end of August 2018, the US announced its complete withdrawal from UNRWA funding.


UNRWA is criticized for anti-Semitic incidents and structures. The books used in UNRWA schools in which the term "Israel" does not appear and on whose maps Israel does not even exist are criticized. An analysis of the Facebook profiles of teachers and principals of UNRWA schools showed that Hitler is celebrated there as a great leader, the employees are amused at the murder of Jews and are happy that fighters from the Islamist Hamas in Gaza visit their school.

In 2018, UNRWA was ranked fifth among the worst anti-Semitic incidents of the year by the Simon Wiesenthal Institute due to its structural anti-Semitism .

Misconduct at management level

An internal report by UNRWA's Ethics Department from July 2019 accuses senior executives from an inner circle around Commissioner General Pierre Krähenbühl of abuse of power, nepotism and the suppression of dissenting opinions. In addition to Krähenbühl, his former deputy Sandra Mitchell, former HR manager Hakam Shahwan and Krähenbühl's advisor Maria Mohammedi were named in the report. As a result, Switzerland, Belgium, the Netherlands and New Zealand suspended their financial support. On November 6, 2019, General Commissioner Krähenbühl resigned.

In a study by UN-Watch , in which the social media channels of UNRWA employees were examined, it came to the conclusion that the lines between UNRWA and Hamas in the Gaza Strip are vague. In addition, anti-Semitic and terror-glorifying content was found among many executive employees . In some cases, calls were made for the killing of Jews and the extermination of Israel.

Inadequate care

Over the past few years there have been protests by the population against UNRWA when a 23-year-old Lebanese man set himself on fire in protest as a result of the cuts in medical care and accommodation for refugees announced by the UNHWR and died because he had previously received medical treatment Treatment of his congenital blood disease was denied for financial reasons.

See also

Web links

Commons : UNRWA  - Collection of Images

Individual evidence

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