UNRWA and Palestine Refugees

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



Cathryn Costello, Michelle Foster, and Jane McAdam


Oxford University Press




This chapter studies the relationship between Palestinian refugees and the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). UNRWA’s role is to provide humanitarian ‘relief’ and to provide economic opportunities—‘works’—for refugees in the areas of major displacement: the West Bank, Gaza, Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon. Initially, the definition of Palestine refugee for UNRWA’s purposes was a sub-category of the United Nations Conciliation Commission on Palestine definition for purposes of relief provision, but it also included other categories of persons displaced from later conflicts. Following the passage of the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, the General Assembly authorized UNHCR to include stateless persons within its mandate. The Arab host States do not recognize Palestinians as falling under the international legal definitions of ‘refugees’ or ‘stateless persons’, however, and have refused to accept any UNHCR involvement vis-à-vis Palestinians in the UNRWA areas. The effect of these provisions is that Palestinians are excluded from UNHCR’s protection mandate in UNRWA areas, and since UNRWA has no durable solutions mandate, Palestinians have no access to durable solutions either as refugees or as stateless persons in UNRWA fields.

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