Who are Palestine refugees?
Under UNRWA's operational definition, Palestine refugees are people whose normal place of residence was Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948, who lost both their homes and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict.
UNRWA's services are available to all those living in its area of operations who meet this definition, who are registered with the Agency and who need assistance. The descendants of the original Palestine refugees are also eligible for registration. When the Agency started working in 1950, it was responding to the needs of about 750,000 Palestine refugees. Today, 5 million Palestine refugees are eligible for UNRWA services.
Where do Palestine refugees live?
One-third of the registered Palestine refugees, more than 1.4 million, live in 58 recognised refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, the Syrian Arab Republic, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.
A camp, according to UNRWA's working definition, is a plot of land placed at the disposal of UNRWA by the host government to accommodate Palestine refugees and to set up facilities to cater to their needs. Areas not designated as such are not considered camps. However, UNRWA also maintains schools, health centres and distribution centres in areas outside camps where Palestine refugees are concentrated, such as Yarmouk near Damascus, in Syria.
The plots of land on which camps were set up are either state land or, in most cases, land leased by the host government from local landowners. This means that the refugees in camps do not "own" the land on which their shelters were built, but have the right to "use" the land for a residence.
Socio-economic conditions in the camps are generally poor, with high population density, cramped living conditions and inadequate basic infrastructure such as roads and sewers.
UNRWA’s responsibility in camps
UNRWA's responsibility in the camps is limited to providing services and administering its installations. The Agency does not own, administer or police the camps as this is the responsibility of the host authorities.
UNRWA has a camp services office in each camp, which the residents visit to update their records or to raise issues relating to Agency services with the camp services officer (CSO). The CSO, in turn, refers refugee concerns and petitions to the UNRWA administration in the area in which the camp is located.
Ten camps were established in the aftermath of the June 1967 war and the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, to accommodate a new wave of displaced persons, both refugees and non-refugees.
Cities and towns
The other two-thirds of the registered refugees live in and around the cities and towns of the host countries, and in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, often in the environs of official camps. While most of UNRWA's installations such as schools and health centres are located in refugee camps, a number are outside camps and all of the Agency's services are available to both camp and non-camp residents.
More about where UNRWA works