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 Palestine refugee population. UNRWA's mission is to provide Palestine refugees in the Middle East with assistance until the Palestine issue is resolved. UNRWA employs nearly 28,000 people in the region, most of whom are Palestine refugees themselves.
UNRWA runs 711 schools that provide education to more than half a million refugee children. Over half of the agency's programme budget is allocated to education.
UNRWA operates 143 medical centres in the region, offering high-quality medical services free of charge to the Palestine refugee population. In 2019, there were over 8.4 million patient visits to UNRWA's health centres. More than three million refugees access the agency's health services.
Around 1.2 million Palestine refugees live in abject poverty. UNRWA provides around 255,000 of them with social assistance.
One third of Palestine refugees live in 58 camps spread throughout the region. UNRWA helps to rebuild and improve the camp infrastructure.
UNRWA's microfinance services provide sustainable income-generation opportunities to thousands of Palestine refugees.
UNRWA is regularly called upon to respond to humanitarian emergencies due to ongoing instability in the region. The crisis in Syria, the security situation in Gaza and the current COVID-19 pandemic have impacted the thousands of Palestine refugees who receive humanitarian aid from UNRWA.
Every year, 3.6 million Palestine refugees access UNRWA's health services, and 255,000 people receive assistance in the form of food or cash. UNRWA's schools provide more than 530,000 children with an education.
Despite the armed conflict in Syria, UNRWA has maintained its activities in the region and provides support – adapted to the situation on the ground – to the Palestine refugee population in Syria and neighbouring countries. Since the Syrian crisis began in March 2011, UNRWA has delivered humanitarian aid to more than 460,000 people. UNRWA also continued providing services during the COVID-19 pandemic, adjusting its operations to offer distance learning and home delivery of food aid, to name just two examples.
UNRWA UNRWA has been one of Switzerland's strategic partners in the Middle East since the agency was founded in 1949. Switzerland makes considerable contributions to UNRWA's programme budget (CHF 20 million in 2019). Contributions to this budget are used to directly finance UNRWA's education, health and support services to Palestine refugees. Switzerland's top priorities for UNRWA are seeing that the agency implements the management reforms introduced in 2019, continues to provide education to refugees, and works together with host countries to create opportunities for young Palestinians. In addition to its general budgetary contribution, Switzerland also funds one-off UNRWA projects such as improving access to water in refugee camps in Lebanon.
The appointment of Swiss national Philippe Lazzarini to the post of UNRWA commissioner-general in 2020 is a testament to Switzerland’s commitment to the United Nations.
Switzerland has played a part in achieving the aforementioned outcomes thanks to its financial contributions to UNRWA's programme budget. Switzerland also financed and supported a resource mobilisation strategy for UNRWA that helped it acquire new funding from non-traditional donors, including from the private sector. Some of the management reforms introduced in late 2019 have already been implemented under the leadership of Commissioner-General Lazzarini. UNRWA strives to advance its reform agenda and is actively supported by Switzerland in this regard.
The main challenges facing UNRWA are regional crises – particularly in Syria – and the agency's ability to continue providing services during the COVID-19 pandemic. Another challenge facing UNRWA is chronic underfunding, which jeopardises the agency's financial stability and threatens its ability to provide high-quality services. This issue has been exacerbated by the United States' decision to end aid contributions to the agency in 2018. Switzerland is strongly committed to helping UNRWA respond to these challenges. To this end, Switzerland supports the agency's reform process and provides additional funds for humanitarian purposes.