This is a cryptic, but important article. Examine the numbers carefully. Compare UNHCR to UNRWA. A number of issues and concerns will be revealed. The intent is to stimulate dialogue on these issues. Writers are invited to use this as source material to elaborate on the issues involved.

Israel Zwick, Editor


From the Mouth of the UN


            The official organizational chart of the United Nations lists 108 agencies of the UN.  Three of these agencies have been selected below.  For each agency, excerpts were cut and pasted from their official websites.  All of the statements are from the official UN website, there are no comments from the editor. The reader is encouraged to draw his own conclusions. In the interest of brevity, some of the statements had to be taken out of context. The hyperlink for each statement is provided so that the reader needs only to click it to get the complete web page. In event that the hyperlink doesn’t work, please cut and paste the URL into the browser address.

 The three agencies are, in alphabetical order:


1.      United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF)

2.      United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Office of the (UNHCR)

3.      United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA)



Part I.   United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF)


UNICEF is committed to ensuring special protection for the most disadvantaged children - victims of war, disasters, extreme poverty, all forms of violence and exploitation and those with disabilities.

UNICEF is non-partisan and its cooperation is free of discrimination. In everything it does, the most disadvantaged children and the countries in greatest need have priority.

UNICEF aims, through its country programmes, to promote the equal rights of women and girls and to support their full participation in the political, social, and economic development of their communities.

We involve everyone in creating protective environments for children. We are present to relieve suffering during emergencies, and wherever children are threatened, because no child should be exposed to violence, abuse or exploitation.

We are more than 7,000 people working in 157 countries around the world. 


Middle East and North Africa

Iran (Islamic Republic of)
Libyan Arab Jamahiriya

occupied Palestinian territory
Saudi Arabia
Syrian Arab Republic
United Arab Emirates

UNICEF is a world-wide reputable organization in existence for more than 50 years.  In the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), UNICEF has a large and dynamic programme to the tune of about US$17-million for basic humanitarian and development assistance for the most vulnerable women and children.

Top priorities for 2005 are to restore basic services for Palestinian children such as health services, immunization, nutrition education and protecting children against violence, abuse and exploitation, including a response to the children's psycho-social distress.

The chronic consequences of the conflict, due to closures, barriers and movement restrictions, result in a fragmentation of society, impoverishment and increased aid dependency.  This is why UNICEF interventions are more needed than ever.

The decline in the wellbeing and quality of life of Palestinian children in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) over the past two years has been rapid and profound. This is directly linked to the violence and mobility restrictions children experience daily, including death and injury to family and friends, damage to their property, and the frustration and poverty they sustain through stifling closures, curfews and home confinement.

Since 80  per cent of Palestinian parents reported a change in their children’s behaviour, UNICEF's response to the increased psychosocial distress among Palestinian children affected by violence includes the training of school counsellors, kindergarten teachers and social workers. In addition, UNICEF supports activities which promote the peaceful and non-violent participation by children in the social and cultural life of the oPt through assistance for more than 300 summer camps, sports activities, media by and for children and youth forums, including the Palestinian youth parliament in Gaza and Jericho. UNICEF supports the development of mentoring and peer support groups through schools and community based organizations. Up to 48 groups have been set up providing approximately 2,500 children and adolescents with peer-to-peer support in hardship areas of Jerusalem and Ramallah. A hotline was established by the same organization offering support to adolescents in out-of-reach areas.

Estimated number of children killed in conflicts since 1990: 1.6 million

Estimated rise in the under-five mortality rate during a ‘typical’ five-year war: 13 per cent


September 8, 2004



"I feel saddened by the news that a nine-year-old Palestinian girl was critically shot while sitting at her desk in a classroom on Monday. Having commented just a few days ago all that is being done in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to get kids back to school and provide a safe learning environment, it feels frustrating to receive tragic news like this.


The schools that children learn in and playgrounds they play in must be seen as zones of peace.


According to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, children have the right to a safe learning environment and have a right to be protected from violence."


Statement on shooting of a three-year old girl in occupied Palestinian territory

JERUSALEM, 27 January 2005 - The UNICEF Special Representative in oPt, Dan Rohrmann, expressed his sadness today in the aftermath of the latest fatality, when yesterday, a three-year-old Rahma Ibrahim Abu Shamas was struck dead by a bullet while sitting in her house in a very poor area in the central Gaza Strip. 

Rohrmann said that unfortunately children have these days limited opportunities to play and exercise in areas safe for them and where they can be with their peers. Close to half of the children in West Bank and Gaza spend less time on extra-curricular activities. UNICEF and others are working tirelessly in promoting child survival and development.



It is estimated that some 300,000 children – boys and girls under the age of 18 – are

today involved in more than 30 conflicts worldwide. Children are used as combatants,

messengers, porters and cooks and for forced sexual services. Some are abducted or

forcibly recruited, others are driven to join by poverty, abuse and discrimination, or to

seek revenge for violence enacted against them or their families.

Children are more likely to become child soldiers if they are separated from their

families, displaced from their homes, living in combat zones or have limited access to

education. Children may join armed groups as the only way to guarantee daily food and


In some situations, the involvement of children in conflicts as soldiers may even be

accepted or encouraged. Children may ‘voluntarily’ take part in warfare, not realizing the

dangers and abuses they will be subjected to. Most likely these children are responding

to economic, cultural, social and political pressures.

GAZA CITY, 6 October 2004 – At 3 a.m. on a fog-shrouded morning, Israeli military vehicles opened fire on an area in the Gaza Strip near the Rawdet Tal Zaatar kindergarten.

“I was with my wife and six children. We hid in the kitchen to protect ourselves from the missile attack and gunfire,” said Jabr, a middle-aged Palestinian man who has run the kindergarten for five years.

When the hundreds of schoolchildren arrived later that morning they found their school reduced to rubble. “I felt unfairness and injustice when I saw the destroyed kindergarten. Palestinian children are being deprived of their basic rights to play and learn peacefully,” Jabr said. 

The destruction wreaked by war is likely to mean that children are deprived of key services such as education and health care. Education, for example, is often disrupted due to hazardous roads or the absence of teachers. Often, schools are directly attacked, as was seen in September 2004 during the hostage crisis and subsequent calamitous battle in the Russian town of Beslan, which left more than 150 children and even greater numbers of adults dead. In Aceh, Indonesia, as part of the conflict between government forces and rebel groups, 460 schools were systematically burned to the ground during May 2003 alone. In Nepal, schools are regularly used as centres for propaganda and recruitment by groups opposing the government. Attacks on and abductions of both teachers and students are frequent.


Part II.  United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees,   Office of the (UNHCR)

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees was established on December 14, 1950 by the United Nations General Assembly. The agency is mandated to lead and co-ordinate international action to protect refugees and resolve refugee problems worldwide. Its primary purpose is to safeguard the rights and well-being of refugees. It strives to ensure that everyone can exercise the right to seek asylum and find safe refuge in another State, with the option to return home voluntarily, integrate locally or to resettle in a third country.

In more than five decades, the agency has helped an estimated 50 million people restart their lives. Today, a staff of more than 6,000 people in more than 116 countries continues to help some 17 million persons. 

The protection of some 17 million uprooted people is the core mandate of UNHCR. The agency does this in several ways. Using the 1951 Geneva Refugee Convention as its major tool, it ensures the basic human rights of vulnerable persons and that refugees will not be returned involuntarily to a country where they face persecution. Longer term, the organization helps civilians repatriate to their homeland, integrate in countries of asylum or resettle in third countries. Using a world wide field network, it also seeks to provide at least a minimum of shelter, food, water and medical care in the immediate aftermath of any refugee exodus.


The total population of concern to UNHCR fell from 20.8 million persons at the end of 2002 to 17.1 million by the end of 2003 (-18%). Refugees constitute 57 per cent of the total population of concern to UNHCR, up from 51 per cent in 2002.


By the end of 2003, the global number of refugees reached an estimated 9.7 million persons. This constitutes a net decrease of approximately 920,000 refugees. In addition, some 4 million Palestinian refugees fall under the responsibility of the United Nations Relief

and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).



22. In 2003, almost 26,000 refugees were resettled from first asylum countries with

UNHCR assistance. The main nationalities benefiting from UNHCR-facilitated

resettlement were refugees from Sudan (5,160), Afghanistan (3,560), Somalia

(3,310), Ethiopia (3,030), the Islamic Republic of Iran (2,670), Liberia (2,140) and

Iraq (1,270).

23. Some 75 UNHCR country offices were engaged in facilitating resettlement

departures during 2003. The largest number of refugees resettled with UNHCR assistance

departed from Kenya (7,300), Egypt (3,510), Turkey (2,940), Côte d’Ivoire (1,650),

Pakistan (1,290), the Islamic Republic of Iran (910), India (750), Ethiopia (620) and Guinea


24. In 2003, twenty-four countries received refugees resettled under UNHCR-auspices.

The main countries which resettled refugees through UNHCR were USA (54%), Canada

(17%), Australia (15%), Norway (5%) and Sweden (3%).


Local integration

26. In many countries, refugees have the opportunity to integrate locally because the

host country has provided them with access to land or the labour market. In other

countries, refugees remain confined to camps where they depend on assistance from the

international community. Using UNHCR beneficiary statistics, it is possible to

determine the degree to which refugees depend on the international community for

their survival. Industrialized countries, where assistance is generally provided by the host

country, are not included in this analysis.


Part. III.  United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA)

Following the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict, UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, was established by United Nations General Assembly resolution 302 (IV) of 8 December 1949 to carry out direct relief and works programmes for Palestine refugees. The Agency began operations on 1 May 1950. In the absence of a solution to the Palestine refugee problem, the General Assembly has repeatedly renewed UNRWA's mandate, most recently extending it until 30 June 2008.

Since its establishment, the Agency has delivered its services in times of relative calm in the Middle East, and in times of hostilities. It has fed, housed and clothed tens of thousands of fleeing refugees and at the same time educated and given health care to hundreds of thousands of young refugees.

UNRWA is unique in terms of its long-standing commitment to one group of refugees and its contributions to the welfare and human development of four generations of Palestine refugees. Originally envisaged as a temporary organization, the Agency has gradually adjusted its programmes to meet the changing needs of the refugees. Today, UNRWA is the main provider of basic services - education, health, relief and social services - to over 4.1 million registered Palestine refugees in the Middle East.

UNRWA (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) is a relief and human development agency, providing education, healthcare, social services and emergency aid to over four million refugees living in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and the Syrian Arab republic.

UNRWA is by far the largest UN operation in the Middle East, with over 25,000 staff, almost all of them refugees themselves, working directly to benefit their communities - as teachers, doctors, nurses or social workers.


"Under UNRWA's operational definition, Palestine refugees are persons 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. UNRWA's definition of a refugee also covers the descendants of persons who became refugees in 1948. The number of registered Palestine refugees has subsequently grown from 914,000 in 1950 to more than four million in 2002, and continues to rise due to natural population growth.



One-third of the registered Palestine refugees, about 1.3 million, live in 59 recognized refugee camps in the area of operations in Jordan, Lebanon, the Syrian Arab Republic, the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

A camp, according to UNRWA's working definition, is a plot of land placed at the disposal of UNRWA by the host government for accommodating Palestine refugees and for setting up facilities to cater to their needs. Areas not designated as such are not considered camps. However, UNRWA also maintains schools, health centres and distributions centres in areas outside camps where Palestine refugees are concentrated, such as Yarmouk near Damascus.

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.

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 of the 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.

Socio-economic conditions in the camps are generally poor with a high population density, cramped living conditions and inadequate basic infrastructure such as roads and sewers.

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.

UNRWA Headquarters
Gaza 29 July, 2004

Statement by Peter Hansen, Commissioner-General of UNRWA

The deteriorating security situation in the Gaza Strip is a matter of serious concern to me. Recent worrying developments include the extensive Israeli military operations in Beit Hanoun and increased unpredictability and insecurity faced by United Nations staff in crossing into and out of the Gaza Strip at Erez. As a result, I concluded last week that it was necessary to increase the Security phase rating and to relocate a small number of Headquarters staff to Jerusalem to enable them to continue to work in the most effective and efficient manner.

In these difficult and trying times, I acknowledge with gratitude the commitment of all my staff, in particular the 8,300 Palestinians working for UNRWA in the Gaza Strip. They are doing an excellent job under enormous pressure and often in situations of great danger. They deserve everyone’s support, and I call upon all elements of Palestinian society to facilitate their vital work.

Let there be no doubt that UNRWA’s Headquarters and Field Office in Gaza continue to operate fully and will maintain all the services provided to Palestine refugees: education, health, social and emergency relief services. As Commissioner-General, my job is to serve you and I will see to it that no effort is spared to assist you and to alleviate your suffering to the best of our ability.

Statement by Peter Hansen

Commissioner-General of UNRWA to

the Special Political and Decolonization


1 November 2004

2) UNRWA emergency activities in the occupied Palestinian


In addition to the challenges posed by running such a large and varied

program, UNRWA faces enormous hurdles in the occupied Palestinian

territory that have developed as a result of violence, curfews and


UNRWA launched its Emergency Program in 2000, at the beginning of the

intifada, and strives to mitigate some of the hardship of the crisis. During

the past year, the Agency provided food aid to over 1.3 million refugees

and the emergency job creation program generated over 1,823,000 work

days. The Agency provided temporary accommodation and emergency

assistance, including tents, food, water, blankets and kitchen kits to

families when their houses were destroyed, and launched several

rehousing projects giving refugees new dwellings.

Last year I expressed concern over the building of the ‘wall/fence’ in the

West Bank. I should have expressed alarm. This ‘separation barrier’ is

having severe detrimental effects on the Palestinian population and

UNRWA operations. Refugee families are cut off from agricultural land,

and access to schools and health facilities is more difficult. The permit

regime for the ‘seam zone’ consists of 13 different types of permits.

Residents require permits to live in their own houses, some of which are

valid for only three months. UNRWA is undertaking a series of surveys

to determine how the barrier is affecting refugees and how UNRWA can

best adapt its services. For example, the number of mobile clinics was

increased, providing health care to over 91,000 patients who could not

reach UNRWA health care facilities due to movement restrictions in the

West Bank.


4) UNRWA’s working environment and the road ahead

The Agency continues to face severe operational obstacles in carrying out

its humanitarian mandate in the oPt. Closures and checkpoint delays

prevent schools from operating normally as teachers and students

regularly can not reach schools. Doctors and nurses can often not reach

their clinics. Trucks carrying humanitarian supplies can not reach their

destinations in time, ambulances are delayed or prevented from moving

patients. Agency vehicles are fired on, staff members are injured,

beaten, or humiliated by Israeli soldiers.

Incursions by the IDF have led to destruction of equipment in UNRWA

schools, training centres and health care facilities. These facilities have

also been seized and used by the IDF as temporary detention and

interrogation centres. UNRWA staff members have routinely been denied

free movement in and out of the Gaza Strip for unspecified reasons, often

for extended periods, without explanation.

During the reporting period, 34 staff members from the West Bank and

Gaza Strip were detained by the Israeli authorities, and there are now 23

in detention. In most cases the Agency was not provided with adequate

or timely information as to the reasons for the arrest/detention of its staff

members, and was systematically refused access to them.

Restrictions on freedom of movement of UNRWA staff in the occupied

Palestinian territory have seriously impeded the effectiveness of the

organization’s operations. These include external closure of the West

Bank and Gaza Strip, imposition of curfews and internal closures,

checkpoints, and the continuation of cumbersome procedures requiring

permits and magnetic ID cards for West Bank staff entering East

Jerusalem. Further restrictions are imposed at borders, most

significantly the Erez crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip. The

Agency has also had significant problems moving containers with

humanitarian commodities from Ashdod into the Gaza Strip, and empty

containers out of the Gaza Strip. The number of stranded containers has

ranged between 400 and 600 since April of this year. The accumulated

costs of these delays to UNRWA since the beginning of the crisis will soon

reach $5 million. All these restrictions are inconsistent with 1946

Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations, as

well as the Comay-Michelmore bilateral agreement where Israel agreed to

‘facilitate the task of UNRWA.’

In July of this year, the unpredictability of the Erez passage into the Gaza

Strip, and the increasing danger caused by major Israeli military

operations in its vicinity led to the decision by the UN as a whole to move

into security Phase IV, necessitating the temporary relocation of most

international staff from the Agency’s Gaza headquarters to Jerusalem and

Amman. One can well imagine the disruption to even routine work

caused by lack of office space, support staff, filing systems, difficulty in

holding meetings, and so on.

The future is uncertain, not only for UNRWA and its ability to effectively

fulfil its mandate, but also for the Palestine refugees, particularly those in

the Gaza Strip. Regarding the proposed disengagement by Israel from

the Gaza Strip, I fear that a disengagement that is not accompanied by a

radical easing of movement for both people and goods, will exacerbate

economic stagnation, and the donor community will continue to bear the

burden of the humanitarian crisis.

Operational constraints and program constraints are at an all-time high I

continue to be thankful for the dedication of UNRWA area staff members,

who perform their jobs at great personal risk, are paid much less than

other UN local staff and are the only UN employees in the area not

receiving hazard pay. I ask again for your support in addressing this

anomalous situation.

January 31, 2005

Noran Iyad Deeb, a pupil at the Rafah Elementary Co-Ed “B” School run by the United

Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), was shot and killed

today while lining up in the school yard for afternoon assembly. She was ten years old.

A second girl, Aysha Isam El-Khatib was injured in the hand by a second bullet fired at the

same time.

At the time of the incident, firing had been heard from the direction of the Israeli-controlled

border area. The school’s teaching staff were attempting to clear the children from the

school yard when Noran was hit. The bullet hit her in the face.

This is the fifth incident in the last two years in which children have been killed or seriously

injured inside UNRWA school premises in the Gaza Strip. Two girls were killed in separate

incidents in Rafah and Khan Younis last year and a little girl was permanently blinded in

Khan Younis in March 2003.

UNRWA has repeatedly protested the Israeli military’s indiscriminate firing into civilian

areas in the occupied Palestinian territory. Rafah Elementary Co-Ed “B” School, which is

800 metres from the border, has been hit on numerous occasions since the start of the

conflict. This is the first time the shots have had tragic consequences.

Peter Hansen, UNRWA’s Commissioner-General, said: “Despite the hopeful signs of

improvement in the situation we have again been reminded of the continuing danger to

which innocent children are exposed by the realities of the occupation and the

irresponsible use of arms.”

February 3, 2005

New Shelters for Rafah Homeless

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) today

handed over 122 new homes to 135 families from Rafah refugee camp whose shelters

have been destroyed by the Israeli military during the last four years.

These homes are the visible expression of UNRWA's pledge to provide shelter for all these

refugees made homeless by the conflict that has raged since September 2000. According

to UNRWA's statistics, by end of December 2004, a total of 2,991 shelters, home to over

28,483 people had been demolished or damaged beyond repair in the Gaza Strip since

the start of the strife.

The 122 buildings opened today will house almost 700 people and are part of a five-phase

project that will eventually provide 431 new homes. This, the fourth phase, was funded by

donations from Canada, Belgium, Norway and unearmarked contributions to UNRWA’s

emergency appeals. The total cost of this part of the project, including the infrastructure

work, is approximately $ 2.3 million.

Homeless families waiting for their new shelters have already been provided with

emergency assistance from UNRWA, in the form of tents, blankets, kitchen utensils, food

parcels, and rental subsidies. Additionally, the construction project itself has served to

alleviate some of the hardships being felt in the Gaza Strip. It provided around 50,000

man-days of temporary employment for laborers, builders, and tradesmen in an area

where unemployment is exceptionally high.

In total in Gaza Strip a total of total of 903 shelters have been rebuilt or are at the planning

and tendering stage. However, UNRWA still needs more than $54 million to meet the

current requirement for a further 2,532 new shelters to house homeless families

throughout the Gaza Strip.