2. The Family Files

UNRWA has stored and produced data on Palestine refugees since its inception in 1950. The archives comprising refugee "family files" (or "fact sheets") contain original documents submitted by refugee families to UNRWA in order to support their application to become refugees, and new documents regarding their case since then. The archives consist of folders, one for each family.
The family files contain information about the refugee families such as:
  • Name, origin, religion, occupation (former and present)
  • Details of property (houses, fields, livestock, workshops, funds)
  • Brief family history
  • Brief description of appearance of family (housing, living conditions, clothing situation, physical conditions)
  • Assistance received
  • UNRWA's recommendations and decisions regarding eligibility and registration
  • Among the documents are birth certificates, marriage certificates, and documents regarding property.
Using these documents and other available information, one may trace the history of refugee families, and also picture bits and pieces of their life before 1948. The relevance of the family files for historical research is high. Their scope is comprehensive: in the five UNRWA Fields of operations, the family files archive represent approximately 500 000 cases. It is not clear, however, whether each case contain consistent sets of documents or whether documents and information in each file is fragmentary.

At present the family files are located in each of UNRWA's five Field Offices. The folders are organized serially according to the place the family registered with UNRWA. In most Fields storage conditions are unsuitable for organic material. It is thus impossible to prevent a slow destruction of the documents, let alone to allow access for outside users. Accessibility is restrained by the danger of harming the material, the concerns about confidentiality and personal privacy, the sensitivity of the documents, the lack of a central storage place and lack of computerized registers.


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