United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East

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United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) is a relief and human development agency, providing education, health care, social services and emergency aid to over 4.7 million Palestine refugees living in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, as well as in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. It is the only agency dedicated to helping refugees from a specific region or conflict. It is separate from UNHCR,[1] the UN Refugee Agency, which is the only other UN agency aiding refugees, dedicated to aiding all refugees in the world.

It was established following the 1948 Arab-Israeli War by the United Nations General Assembly under resolution 302 (IV) of 8 December 1949. This resolution also reaffirmed paragraph 11, concerning refugees, of UN General Assembly Resolution 194 and was passed unopposed, supported by Israel and the Arab states, with only the Soviet bloc and South Africa abstaining.[2] UNRWA has had to develop a working definition of "refugee" to allow it to provide humanitarian assistance. This maintained that beneficiaries had to have lived in the British Mandate of Palestine for at least two years before fleeing and must have lost both their home and livelihood as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, or be the descendant of someone who had. Most of UNRWA's funding comes from European countries and the United States.

The UNRWA definition is meant solely to determine eligibility for UNRWA assistance, although some argue it serves to perpetuate the conflict.[3][4][5][6] Under General Assembly Resolution 194 (III), of 11 December 1948, other persons may be eligible for repatriation and/or compensation but are not necessarily eligible for relief under the UNRWA's working definition. Thus a person who is not or who has ceased to be regarded as a refugee by the UN Commissioner for Human Rights definition may still qualify as a refugee by the UNRWA definition.

All Palestine refugees (as defined) who are registered with UNRWA and are in need of assistance are eligible for help from UNRWA. In 2004, there were 4 million qualified Palestine refugees registered with the UNRWA.[7] UNRWA provides facilities in 59 recognized refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. It also provided relief to displaced persons inside the state of Israel following the 1948 conflict until the Israeli government took over responsibility for them in 1952.

For a camp to be recognized by UNRWA, there must be an agreement between the host government and UNRWA governing use of the camp. UNRWA does not itself run any camps, has no police powers or administrative role, but simply provides services to the camp. Refugee camps, which developed from tent cities to rows of concrete blockhouses to urban ghettos indistinguishable from their surroundings, house around one third of all registered Palestine refugees. UNRWA also provides facilities in other areas where large numbers of registered Palestine refugees live outside of recognized camps.

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