UNRWA – the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East

UNRWA has a humanitarian and development mandate to provide assistance and protection to Palestine refugees pending a just and lasting solution of their plight. The Agency operates in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank (including East Jerusalem), Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. 


UNRWA services encompass education, healthcare, relief and social services, infrastructure and camp improvement, as well as microfinance and emergency assistance. Switzerland contributes around CHF 20 million to UNRWA's regular budget every year.

The organisation in brief

The United Nations General Assembly created the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) in 1949 in order to provide humanitarian aid to the Palestine refugee population. UNRWA's mission is to provide these refugees in the Near East with assistance until the Palestine issue is resolved. UNRWA employs nearly 29,000 people in the region, most of whom are Palestine refugees themselves.

Since 7 October 2023, UNRWA's operational capacity in the Gaza Strip has been severely restricted. UNRWA nevertheless remains the largest humanitarian actor in Gaza. In the current situation, it would hardly be possible for any other organisation or authority to take over all the tasks. In the absence of a political solution to the Middle East conflict, UNRWA also remains a factor of stability in the region, providing basic services in the West Bank, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria. This is why Switzerland is all the more concerned by the serious allegations against certain UNRWA employees suspected of involvement in the terrorist acts perpetrated by Hamas on October 7, which Switzerland condemns in the strongest terms. Switzerland has a zero-tolerance policy towards any support for terrorism and any incitement to hatred or violence. It has taken note of the immediate measures taken by UNRWA, in particular the decision to dismiss the accused employees with immediate effect and to launch an investigation. Switzerland expects that the ongoing investigation will fully clarify the allegations and calls for appropriate measures to be taken thereafter.



UNRWA runs 706 schools that provide education to more than 540,000 refugee children. Over half of the Agency's programme budget is allocated to education.


UNRWA operates 140 health centres in the region, offering high-quality medical services free of charge to the Palestine refugee population. There are over 7 million patient visits to UNRWA's clinics each year. More than 3 million refugees use the Agency's health services.

Social services

Around 1.2 million Palestine refugees live in abject poverty. UNRWA provides 398,000 of them with social assistance (as of January 2022).


Nearly one third of Palestine refugees live in 58 camps spread throughout the region. UNRWA helps to rebuild and improve camp infrastructure.


UNRWA's microfinance services provide sustainable income-generation opportunities to thousands of Palestine refugees.

Emergency response

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 COVID-19 pandemic have impacted the thousands of Palestine refugees who receive humanitarian aid from UNRWA.


Each year, 3.6 million Palestine refugees benefit from UNRWA's health services, and in 2022, 1.7 million people received assistance in the form of food or cash. UNRWA's schools provide over 540,000 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, adapting its operations to offer distance learning and home delivery of food aid, to cite just two examples.

Switzerland's engagement

Switzerland's priorities

UNRWA has been one of Switzerland's strategic partners in the Near East since the agency was founded in 1949. Switzerland makes considerable contributions to UNRWA's programme budget (CHF 20 million in 2022). Contributions to this budget are used to directly finance UNRWA's education, health and support services for 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 prospects for young Palestinians. In addition to its general budgetary contribution, Switzerland also provides additional humanitarian funds in times of acute need.


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 UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini. UNRWA strives to advance its reform agenda and receives support from Switzerland in this regard. 


The main challenges facing UNRWA are regional crises – conflict in Syria, instability in Lebanon, violence in the West Bank and recurrent escalations in Gaza, the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and rising food and energy costs. Another challenge facing UNRWA is chronic underfunding, which jeopardises the Agency's financial stability and threatens its ability to provide high-quality services. 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.

International Cooperation: A profession

40 short films portray UN employees in Geneva. Beneath the films, the favored language of subtitles (de, fr, en, it) can be selected.