Funds and Programmes

HQ location


Date established

1 May 1950


4/302 (1949)

The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) was established by the General Assembly (GA res. 302 (IV)) on 8 December 1949, following the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict, to carry out direct relief and works programmes for Palestine refugees.  The Agency began operations on 1 May 1950. In the absence of a solution to the Palestine refugee situation, the General Assembly has repeatedly renewed UNRWA's mandate, most recently extending it until 30 June 2014.

As a provider of public services, UNRWA provides essential services to eligible registered Palestine refugees in its fields of operation: Jordan, Lebanon, the Syrian Arab Republic and the occupied Palestinian territory.  The Agency defines eligible Palestine refugees as persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948, who lost both their homes and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict. Their descendants are registered as refugees through the male line.

UNRWA's services are available to those living in its area of operations who meet this definition, who are registered with the Agency, and who need assistance. About 4.8 million refugees are registered with UNRWA.

In line with its mandate to promote the human development and well-being of Palestine refugees, UNRWA's principal areas of activity are education, health, relief, social services, micro-credit and camp improvement programmes. UNRWA also provides emergency assistance to refugees affected by conflict in its area of operations. It has been conducting emergency operations in the West Bank and Gaza since the outbreak of the Intifada (uprising) in September 2000 and in northern Lebanon since June 2007.

UNRWA is by far the largest UN operation in the Middle East. It has about 30,000 staff almost all of whom are refugees themselves, working directly to benefit their communities as teachers, doctors, nurses, social workers or in other practical capacities. UNRWA's operations are financed almost entirely by voluntary contributions from donors. The Agency's regular budget for 2010-11 was $1.8 billion, which covered the recurrent costs of the Agency's education, health and relief, and social services activities.

  • Office of the Commissioner-General (headquarters)
  • Field Offices
  • Representative Offices
  • Advisory Commission

The Commissioner-General is appointed by the UN Secretary-General after consultation with UNRWA's Advisory Commission for a three-year renewable term. He or she is the only head of a UN body to report directly to the General Assembly. The Office of the Commissioner-General is the focal point for coordination between UNRWA and host authorities, donor governments, other UN organs and organisations, and inter-governmental bodies.

UNRWA maintains headquarters in the Gaza Strip and Amman. Some headquarter functions are being temporarily carried out from Jerusalem as well. There are five UNRWA field offices, located in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, Jordan, Lebanon and the Syrian Arab Republic. Each office is headed by a director, who is accountable to the Commissioner-General. The responsibilities and functions of each field office include the implementation of UNRWA programmes and services, advising and making recommendations to the Commissioner-General on matters affecting UNRWA operations in the field, and providing advice and assistance to the Commissioner-General on relations with host authorities, government and non-governmental organisations. UNRWA also maintains representative offices in New York, Washington, Brussels and Geneva, and a liaison office in Cairo.

The Advisory Commission was established under the same General Assembly resolution as UNRWA itself. It advises and assists the UNRWA Commissioner-General in the execution of the Agency's programmes.

There are now 24 Advisory Commission members. Membership expanded following the General Assembly's decision on 9 December 2005 to include those countries whose contributions to the Agency had exceeded an annual average of$5 million over the previous three years. Two further countries meeting the criteria joined in December 2008 and one in 2011. The Commission members are:

Saudi Arabia
Syrian AR

The European Union, the League of Arab States and the Palestine Liberation Organization attend Advisory Commission meetings as observers. Chairing of the Advisory Commission rotates among members annually. Saudi Arabia was the Chair from 1 July 2010 to 30 June 2011. Jordan was Chair from 1 July 2011 for one year.


UNRWA Headquarters
PO Box 140157
Amman 11814
Telephone: (+962 6) 580 8100
Fax: (+962 6) 580 8335