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UNRWA - United Nations Aid for Palestine Refugees in the Middle East

Organization portrait

The United Nations General Assembly founded UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees) in 1949 to provide humanitarian aid to Palestine refugees. The relief organization specifically takes care of the Palestine refugees in the Middle East and offers them support until a political solution to the Palestine question is found. UNRWA employs almost 28,000 people in the region, most of whom are Palestine refugees themselves.


UNRWA's 711 schools educate over half a million children of Palestinian refugees. More than half of the aid organization's program budget is spent on education.

UNRWA operates 143 health centers in the region. The centers offer refugees free access to high quality health services. More than 8.4 million patient visits were recorded in 2019. Over three million refugees make use of the centers' services.

Social services
Around 1.2 million Palestine refugees live in absolute poverty. UNRWA provides social support to around 255,000 of them.

A third of the Palestine refugees live in one of the 58 camps in the region. UNRWA is participating in the reconstruction and improvement of the camp infrastructure.

By providing microfinance services, UNRWA helps thousands of Palestine refugees secure their livelihoods on a sustainable basis.

Emergency aid
Due to the ongoing instability in the region, UNRWA is regularly called upon to provide emergency aid in humanitarian crises. The Syria crisis, the uncertainty of the situation in Gaza and currently the COVID-19 pandemic are affecting thousands of Palestine refugees who receive humanitarian aid from UNWRA.

Every year 3.6 million Palestine refugees use UNRWA health services and 255,000 people receive assistance in the form of food or cash. More than 530,000 children attend UNRWA schools.

UNRWA continued its activities despite the armed conflict in Syria and provided appropriate support for the Palestine refugees in Syria and in neighboring countries. Since the beginning of the Syria crisis in March 2011, UNRWA has provided humanitarian assistance to over 460,000 people. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, UNRWA was able to continue its services in an adapted form, for example via e-learning and home visits to distribute food.

Switzerland's commitment

Switzerland's priorities
UNRWA has been a strategic partner of Switzerland in the Middle East since the relief organization was founded in 1949. Switzerland makes a significant contribution to the UNRWA program budget (2019: CHF 20 million), which is used to finance educational, health and support services for the Palestine refugees. The implementation of the reforms in the management of UNRWA initiated in 2019 have a high priority for Switzerland, as well as the commitment in the education sector and - in cooperation with the host countries - the creation of prospects for young Palestinians. In addition to the general contribution, Switzerland also finances specific UNRWA projects such as improving the water supply in refugee camps in Lebanon.

The appointment of the Swiss Philippe Lazzarini as General Commissioner of UNRWA in 2020 is confirmation of Switzerland's commitment to the UN.

Thanks to its contribution to the UNWRA program budget, Switzerland is contributing to the above-mentioned results. In addition, thanks to the resource mobilization strategy financed and supported by Switzerland, UNRWA has succeeded in raising new funding from non-traditional donors, including the private sector. The reforms in the management of the organization that were launched at the end of 2019 have already been partially implemented under Philippe Lazzarini. UNRWA endeavors to press ahead with these reforms, with Switzerland working hard to implement this reform package.


The regional crises - led by Syria - and the provision of services despite the COVID-19-related restrictions are important challenges for UNRWA. The chronic underfunding - made worse by the discontinuation of US contributions since 2018 - also affects the financial stability of the aid agency and endangers its ability to provide high quality services. Switzerland is strongly committed to these issues by supporting the UNRWA reform processes and providing additional funds for humanitarian purposes.