Aim and Scope

UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) was established by the United Nations General Assembly in December 1949 to give assistance to Palestine refugees. It began its operations in May 1950 and has continued to carry out this function since. The Agency has programmes in relief and social services, health, and education, for registered refugees in five geographical "Fields" of operations. These are Jordan, Lebanon, the Syrian Arab Republic, West Bank and Gaza Strip. The Fields, in turn, are divided into "Areas".1

As part of its work UNRWA has collected a large amount of information on Palestinian refugees. These contain a wide variety of data stored in several different ways. The aim of this study is to evaluate the potential of UNRWA's data for research on Palestine refugees and to suggest ways of utilizing this information.

Before proceeding, we would like to emphasize that this study is not about data and information produced by UNRWA in general. It is a study neither of UNRWA's work, nor of the Agency's priorities. The focus of the study is to evaluate data on Palestine refugees. UNRWA's material not focusing directly on the refugees, like financial statistics, information about its budgets, expenses and contributors, are outside the scope of this study and will not be addressed. Further, when we present the data on refugees our focus is on the value of the data for research. It should be kept in mind that most of UNRWA's data have not been produced for research purposes and that the Agency's mandate has not favoured production of statistical information.

UNRWA has operated in one of the most politically unstable and tense regions of the world for 45 years. To be able to operate it has had to balance between the interests of the refugees, the governments of the host countries, the Israeli Civil Administration governing the Fields of Gaza and the West Bank, and the international community. Caution always had to be taken with regard to collection and publication of statistical material, in order not to jeopardize the Agency's ability to exercise its primary task, of serving the needs of refugees.

The progress made in the Middle East peace process has increased the need for accurate and reliable information at the grass roots level. UNRWA's data base is one of the most comprehensive on Palestinian refugees in the Middle East. Measures that can increase its use must thus be carefully considered.

The study has been conducted with invaluable assistance and support from UNRWA and the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. After preliminary investigations of UNRWA's publications, visits to UNRWA's Headquarters in Vienna and Amman have been carried out. The trip to Amman included visits to UNRWA Field Office, a refugee camp, and UNRWA facilities on the ground. During all these visits focus was put on UNRWA's collection and production of data about the refugees. The last stage of the study involved further investigation of UNRWA's data, based on experiences from the visits in Vienna and Amman, discussions with UNRWA staff, and reading of UNRWA material.

1.) The UNRWA Areas are: the four Areas of Amman South, Amman North, Irbed and Zarga in Jordan, the five Areas of Jericho, Jerusalem, Hebron, Nablus and Ex-Gaza in the West Bank, the six Areas of Beirut, Mountain, Saida, Tyre, Tripoli and Beqaa in Lebanon, and the six Areas of Damascus, South, Homs, Hama, Aleppo and Latakia in Syria. In Gaza there are no UNRWA areas.

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