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

Committee Overview

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) was created to respond specifically to the needs of Palestine refugees. It is one of the oldest UN agencies, created by United Nations General Assembly Resolution 302 in 1948. This even predates the creation of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, which provides assistance to all other refugee groups. The UNRWA was created in the wake of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War following the establishment of the State of Israel. The conflict displaced hundreds of thousands of people who were in dire need of assistance. The UNRWA’s mandate is renewed every three years, most recently being extended until June 30, 2023. As the largest UN operation in the Middle East, the UNRWA primarily focuses on the welfare, assistance, and protection of four generations of Palestine refugees. 

Topic A: Free Speech Rights of Palestine Refugees

A recent example of violence against journalists is when 51-year-old Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was shot in West Bank while working for the paper Al Jazeera in May 2022. At the time, Abu Akleh was wearing a vest with the word “PRESS” in large writing. When journalists don’t feel safe doing their jobs, the right to free speech is eroded. According to Reporters Without Borders, more than 140 Palestinian journalists have been injured or killed while reporting since March 2018. Journalists face threats such as destruction of equipment, legal proceedings, physical injury, and death. They often report that they cannot rely on police and law enforcement protection despite their dangerous situations. The Geneva Conventions and UN Security Council Resolution 2222 condemn violence against journalists and call for swift action to protect them. In this committee, delegates will discuss how to preserve the safety of journalists and, by extension, the right to free speech.

Topic B: Delivering Emergency Aid to Palestine Refugees

One of the UNRWA’s priorities is to provide emergency social, health, and nutritional services to Palestine refugees. This includes refugees in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and adjacent countries. Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip, which started in 2007, complicates this goal. Similar to Palestine refugees in other sites, many in Gaza live in extreme poverty and desperately need aid. Therefore, the delivery of aid and services remains an important agenda item for the UNRWA; however, funding these vital services has become increasingly challenging over the years. The COVID-19 pandemic has stressed global supplies of food and other necessities and has also led countries to reallocate funding to other financial priorities. These challenges are difficult to solve, but the health and safety of 5.7 million refugees who rely on UNRWA emergency services are at stake. This is a critical issue for the UNRWA to tackle to uphold the human rights and quality of life for all refugees in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.