The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East was established on December 8, 1949, by United Nations General Assembly Resolution 302 (IV), to ìcarry outÖdirect relief and works programmesÖî for Palestinian Arab refugees. While it has evolved into a highly politicized agency, its mandate defined it as purely humanitarian.
When it began operations on May 1, 1950, UNRWA was envisioned as being a temporary agency that would dissolve when the refugee problem was resolved. As it is, by design of the Arab states, the problem has not been resolved.
A PLO document explains: “In order to keep the refugee issue alive and prevent Israel from evading responsibility for their plight, Arab countries – with the notable exception of Jordan – have usually sought to preserve a Palestinian identity by maintaining the Palestinians’ status as refugees.”
That is, most Arab nations have deliberately refused to absorb the refugees or give them citizenship, and have instead focused on their right to “return” to Israel. That focus was made central to the UNRWA mandate.
Thus, UNRWA’s mandate has been renewed every few years by the General Assembly (GA); its present mandate runs to June 30, 2005.