Background: The UNHCR and UNRWA

by Mathilde Panneau

Africa’s first modern refugee crisis occurred in the late 1950s during Algeria’s independence struggle against France. UNHCR, during its first intervention on the African continent, provided assistance for 200,000 refugees who fled to surrounding countries. © UNHCR/S. Wright/1961


In the aftermath of the Second World War, millions of Europeans lost their homes and were displaced. To help them, in 1950, the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was created. The mandate is defined by the 1950 UNHCR Statute. Even though it was supposed to be a temporary organisation, it has been working hard to help refugees all across the world for the past 67 years. The UNHCR helps refugees but also people internally displaced by conflicts and stateless people. Nowadays the organisation works in 130 countries and employs over 10,966 member of staff. One of the main challenge for the UNHCR is to find funding in order help refugees as much as possible. UNHCR is funded by voluntary contribution, 87% comes from governments and the European Union, the rest comes from intergovernmental organisation or the private sector and, finally, less then one percent is from the UN itself, contributing to administrative costs. In 1950 their budget was US$ 300,000 and in 2017 US$ 7,7 billion.

The organisation is governed by the UN General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council, there is also an appointed High Commissioner, who is responsible for the smooth functioning of the UNHCR. Moreover, the missions of the UNHCR have become more complex, and spread across the globe. Therefore, now it is also controlled by an Inspector General's Office to protect the integrity, ensure efficiency, and deter fraud and abuse.

But what is the situation in 2018?

The UNHCR census shows that 65.6 Million people are displaced worldwide, 22.5 million are refugees and among them 5.3 million Palestinian under UNRWA. Half of them are under 18 years old. Finally, 10 million people are considered stateless and do not have decent access to education, healthcare employment and freedom of education.

Who are the main hosting countries?

According to the UNHCR, the three countries that are currently hosting the biggest number of refugees in the world are Turkey, Pakistan and Lebanon. The two main regions welcoming refugees are the Middle East and Africa.


Palestinian employee of United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) hold a sign during a protest against a US decision to cut aid, in Gaza City January 29, 2018. (REUTERS/Mohammed Salem). (photo credit: REUTERS/MOHAMMED SALEM)

The United Nations Relief and Work Agency for Palestine Refugees in the near east (UNRWA) was funded in 1948. It was established following the 1948 massive expulsion of Palestinians from their land. The UNRWA mandate has repeatedly been renewed in the absence of an agreement to resettle Palestinian refugees.

The agency operates with over 30,000 personnel, with its headquarters are in Amman and Gaza but the Commissioner General's Office is in Jerusalem. Field offices are located in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. UNRWA is working toward achieving four major goals: Knowledge , Long and Healthy Lives, Decent Standards of Living and Human Rights. To achieve these goals, the UNRWA is funded in the same way as the UNHCR but it also works closely with local and small community based organisations, as well as other international NGOs. 54% of the funds is used for education, 17% for health, 16% for support and services, 9% for social services and 4% for infrastructure and camp improvement.

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