Press Release
Department of Public Information · News Coverage Service · New York

8 December 1999

NEW YORK, 8 December (UNRWA) -- The United Nations is today observing the passage of 50 years since the General Assembly, on 8 December 1949, adopted resolution 302 (IV) establishing the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

The General Assembly created UNRWA to carry out, in collaboration with local governments in the Near East, relief and works programmes for some three quarters of a million Palestine refugees who had fled their homes and lands in the wake of the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict. The refugees today number more than 3.6 million. The UNRWA was a successor body to United Nations Relief for Palestine Refugees (UNRPR), which had been set up in 1948 to oversee assistance provided to the refugees by governments, United Nations agencies and programmes, and non- governmental organizations.

The UNRWA is the longest-running humanitarian programme of the United Nations, and the only one devoted to assisting a single group of people. It is also one of the largest United Nations programmes in terms of staff, employing more than 22,000 "area staff", almost all of them Palestine refugees themselves. The UNRWA is thus one of the largest employers in the region, after the host governments and authorities.

The UNRWA's local staff deliver the Agency's education, health and relief and social services directly to the refugees through a network of some 900 UNRWA installations in five fields of operation: Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Facilities include 650 schools with more than 450,000 pupils, eight community-college level training centres, 122 health centres serving some 7 million patients a year, and a network of community centres -- for women, youth and the disabled -- assisted by UNRWA experts.

The UNRWA also sponsors self-funding income-generation and micro-credit lending programmes. The Gaza income-generation programme was recently awarded the first annual AGFUND International Prize for Pioneer Developmental projects, given by the Riyadh-based Arab Gulf Programme for United Nations Development Organizations.

About a third of the refugees (about 1.2 million persons) live in 59 refugee camps; the rest live in villages, towns and cities, where UNRWA also provides schooling, health and relief services. The largest number of refugees (1.5 million) live in Jordan. Another 1.3 million live in the West Bank (570,000) and Gaza Strip (800,000). Lebanon and Syria each host approximately 370,000 refugees.

The UNRWA is the only United Nations programme that reports directly to the General Assembly (through the Special Political and Decolonization Committee). The Agency's mandate has been renewed repeatedly over the years, most recently until 30 June 2002, and is expected to be continued pending a resolution of the Palestine refugee issue in accordance with United Nations resolutions.

The UNRWA has presented to the Assembly a budget of $360.2 million for the year 2000, of which $280.4 million comprises the cash portion of the budget to finance the Agency's regular programmes. Another $20.5 million is in the form of voluntary in-kind contributions, and some $59.3 million is budgeted for projects. The UNRWA derives almost all its funding from voluntary contributions, mostly from governments and international organizations.

Major donors include the United States, the European Community as a whole and European Union members individually, the Nordic countries, Japan, Canada, Switzerland, Saudi Arabia, Australia and Kuwait. The United Nations provides some $12 million a year from its regular budget to finance the costs of fewer than 100 international staff of UNRWA.

The UNRWA's headquarters are in Gaza City and Amman, and there are field offices in Gaza, Jerusalem, Amman, Damascus and Beirut. Commissioner-General Peter Hansen (Denmark) was appointed in 1996 and re-appointed in 1999 for a second three-year term. He is based in Gaza.

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