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UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees ((UNRWA)

  • Context (IE | LM | TOI | DH): UN agency for Palestinian refugees has suffered funding cuts from western nations after Israel accused its staff of being involved in the October 7 Hamas attack.
  • Israel has also claimed that Hamas siphons off funds given to UNRWA and fights from in and around the agency’s facilities.
  • Further, Israel has alleged that Hamas tunnels (are) running next to or under UNRWA facilities and accuses the agency of teaching hatred of Israel in its schools.


Which countries have cut funding to UNRWA, and why?

  • UNRWA was established in 1949 by a U.N. resolution to carry out direct relief for Palestinian refugees following the Arab-Israeli War of 1948. Its mandate was later extended to include refugees from the 1967 Six-Day War.
  • The Agency began operations in May 1950 and was originally expected to be short-lived.
  • In the absence of a comprehensive solution to the Palestine refugee problem, the General Assembly has repeatedly renewed UNRWA’s mandate.
  • UNRWA’s mandate is subject to periodic renewal every three years and has consistently been extended since its founding, most recently until June 30, 2026.
  • Headquarters: Gaza City and Amman.
  • UNRWA’s chief officer is the commissioner-general, who is appointed by the UN secretary-general and reports directly to the General Assembly.
  • The Agency operates in the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza, as well as in Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria – the neighbouring countries where the Palestinian refugees took shelter after their violent expulsion.
  • It is the only UN agency dedicated to helping refugees from a specific region or conflict.
  • Most of the funding for UNRWA comes from “voluntary contributions” from U.N. member states, with a small portion of its financing coming from the U.N.’s regular budget.
  • The task of finding a comprehensive solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Palestine refugee problem, however, is not part of UNRWA’s mandate but is rather the responsibility of the parties to the conflict and other political actors.
  • Services provided: Education, Healthcare, Camp infrastructure and improvement, Microfinance, Emergency assistance. It also focuses on broader initiatives like infrastructure development and economic empowerment.
  • UNRWA is distinct from Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), established in 1950 as the main agency to aid all other refugees worldwide.
  • UNHCR’s mandate covers Palestinians who are refugees within the meaning of the 1951 Refugee Convention, which could include Palestine refugees as defined by UNRWA.
  • UNHCR normally takes up the case of Palestinian refugees only when they are outside UNRWA’s area of operations.

Who is a Palestine Refugees as Defined by UNRWA?

Anyone whose normal place of residence was in Mandate Palestine during the period from 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948 and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war qualifies as a Palestine refugee, as defined by UNRWA, and is eligible for UNRWA registration.

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