Portrait of the organisation
The United Nations General Assembly created UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) in 1949 in order to provide humanitarian aid to the refugee population. It deals expressly with Palestinian refugees in the Middle East and continues to provide them with assistance whilst a political solution to their situation is being sought. UNRWA employs a total of 30,000 people in the region.
The 685 UNRWA schools provide education for almost half a million refugee children. More than half of the agency's budget is allocated for education.
UNRWA has 137 medical centres in the region, offering quality medical services free of charge for the refugee population. More than three million refugees benefit from these services.
Around 1.2 million Palestine refugees live in abject poverty. UNRWA provides almost 300,000 of them with social assistance.
A third of Palestine refugees live in the 58 camps spread throughout the region. UNRWA helps to rebuild and improve their infrastructure.
UNRWA provides thousands of Palestine refugees the opportunity for sustainable income generation by granting loans through its microfinance service.
In view of the instability in the region, UNRWA is regularly called upon to respond to humanitarian emergencies. It provides humanitarian assistance to thousands of Palestinine refugees affected by the Syrian crisis and the fragile situation in Gaza.
Three million Palestine refugees benefit from UNRWA's health services every year, and 300,000 people receive assistance in the form of food or cash. UNRWA schools provide more than 500,000 children with an education.
Despite the armed conflict in Syria, UNRWA has maintained its activities in the region and provides support tailored to the needs of the Palestine refugees in Syria as well as the neighbouring countries. Since the Syrian crisis began in March 2011, UNRWA has managed to deliver humanitarian aid to more than 460,000 Palestine refugees.
Priorities of Switzerland
UNRWA has been one of Switzerland's strategic partners in the Middle East since the agency was founded in 1949. In addition to Switzerland's important contribution to the global fund financing UNRWA's educational, health and aid services to Palestine refugees (CHF 22.9 million in 2015), it plays a leading role in the process to reform the agency. Switzerland is not only committed to improving the quality of UNRWA’s services and its internal management processes, but also to strengthening the agency's fragile financial stability and its capacity to attract resources. In addition to its overall contribution, Switzerland also funds one-off projects implemented by UNRWA (e.g. improved access to water in refugee camps in Lebanon).
The nomination of the Swiss former director of operations at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Pierre Krähenbühl, to the post of commissioner-general of UNRWA in 2013 has also reaffirmed Switzerland's commitment to the UN and strengthened its presence in the organisation's governing bodies.
Thanks to its strategy to mobilise resources which was financed and supported by Switzerland, UNRWA has received new funding from non-traditional donors in 2015. Thus while contributions from Arab countries account for 7.5% of the general fund in 2015, compared with 3% in 2014, the contribution from the private sector has grown 17-fold, totalling USD 22 million.
The main challenges facing UNRWA are regional crises – particularly in Syria – and chronic underfunding. Both affect the agency's financial stability and endanger its capacity to offer quality services. Switzerland is therefore strongly committed to supporting UNRWA on these two levels, via the reform process and acquiring additional funds to respond to humanitarian needs.