It established a special body to provide protection and assistance for them from the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

This body is comprised of the UN Conciliation Commission for Palestine (UNCCP) and the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

In addition, the 1951 UN convention relating to the status of refugees stipulates in article 1D that: “If, for any reason, either protection or assistance ceases to exist, Palestinian refugees should immediately receive such protection or assistance from the UNHCR.”

Legal aid

In its early days, UNCCP provided legal aid and diplomatic assistance as well as physical protection to the refugees.

It has also worked to repatriate certain members of the community – without jeopardising the right of all refugees to return – such as farm owners and labourers, separated families, dependants and religious leaders.

Israel refused the return of other groups – but it also rejected returning farm owners and workers.

For the record

Another early objective of the UNCCP was to make a record of the refugees – where they came from, their professions and property.

No one expected the refugee crisis to last as long as it has and UNCCP was not given the necessary mandate to continue its work effectively. In 1952 the commission decided that the governments concerned had ultimate responsibility for conciliation and the predicament of the refugees.

UNRWA started work after the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict and has now helped four generations of Palestinians with basic needs – housing, health, education and social services.

"If protection or assistance ceases to exist, Palestinian refugees should immediately receive such protection from the UNHCR"

From the 1951 UN convention

It employs more than 24,000 staff, mostly in education, and works closely with local government bodies. It was established on 8 December 1949 by the UN General Assembly Resolution 203 (IV) and began operations in 1950. Originally intended as a temporary solution, it exists to this day.

In the absence of a settlement of the Palestinian issue the General Assembly has regularly renewed UNRWA’s mandate.

Numerous other UN agencies have been involved in providing assistance. Agencies providing some level of service include: the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), the UN Population Fund (UNPFA), the UN Children's Fund (UNCIF), and the UN World Health Organisation (WHO).