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

The number of registered refugees on UNRWA's books has continuously risen1:

Year Refugees
1949 726,000
1950 894,000
1960 1,120,889
1988 2,268,595
2019 5,442,947

How many people have been removed from UNRWA registered refugee status over time, and at what point(s) did this happen?

1. The War of Return: How Western Indulgence of the Palestinian Dream Has Obstructed the Path to Peace by Adi Schwarz and Dr. Einat Wilf

  • 2
    Given the definition, you wouldn't expect that to happen, outside of marginal adjustments if mistakes were made (but even those are unlikely given the voluntary nature of registration). Is there an actual question here or are you just trying to push Schwarz & Wilf's argument?
    – Relaxed
    Sep 15 at 8:57

How many people have been removed from UNRWA registered refugee status over time, and at what point(s) did this happen?

Because the definition of "registered refugee" depends on descendancy through the father, it is possible that none have been removed (removal of the father could remove the children). However, if removed, it would only be due to the death of the registered refugee.

Who Is UNRWA Mandated To Serve?

UNRWA is mandated by the UN General Assembly to serve 'Palestine refugees'. This term was defined in 1952 as any person whose "normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948 and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict." Palestine refugees are persons who fulfil the above definition and descendants of fathers fulfilling the definition.

Not all registered refugees receive assistance.

How Many Palestine Refugees Access UNRWA Services?

As of 2021, Palestine refugees registered as such with the Agency and eligible to access its services within the UNRWA areas of operations (Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip). However, not all registered refugees avail themselves of the Agency’s services. Reasons include - for example - having no need for assistance or having moved outside of UNRWA areas of operations.

In 2020, over 540,000 children were enrolled in UNRWA schools (2020-2021 school year); Social Safety Net Programme assistance reached 390,000 beneficiaries; and 1.5 million affected by conflict, blockade and occupation in the occupied Palestinian territory or the Syria conflict received urgent humanitarian assistance.

The process for removing registered refugees is called deregistration.

UNRWA has resisted deregistration by refugees.

Emphasizing that the community of Palestine refugees from Syria inside Lebanon live in extremely difficult conditions, he said they are actively exploring ways to leave, with some demanding deregistration from UNRWA in the belief that it would offer access to resettlement opportunities available to other refugees from Syria.


  1. UNRWA explained that recently some Palestine Refugees in Lebanon have attempted to deregister from UNRWA, hoping that this would allow for them to fall under UNHCR's mandate. This shows the level of distress and unfairness that the Palestine Refugees feel subjected to, not having the same rights as any other refugee across the world that fall under the 1951 Convention related to the Status of Refugees. UNRWA has communicated that deregistration in itself will not remove the individual from falling under the mandate of UNRWA.


UNRWA has resisted deregistration for those (approximately 2 million) who have become citizens of other countries.

The representative of Israel asked whether refuges who are resettled and become citizens of another country remain on UNRWA’s books.

Mr. SAUNDERS explained that the Agency’s mandate is to provide relief pending a just and lasting solution to the conflict, and as such, it is for the General Assembly to decide who receives its services. The matter of eligibility is subject to international law and exceeds UNRWA’s mandate, he pointed out.


I have been unable to find any on-line documents where deregistration occurred or has resulted in removal. Furthermore, unlike the UNHCR, there is no on-line handbook for the UNRWA outlining the process for deregistration.

  • Is there any system in place to verify that people who have died become unregistered, or have that change in status noted in their file? Is there a similar system for people who have moved out of UNRWA's area of operations? Also, the number of registered refugees has often been held over the figurative heads of Israel and the world, irrespective of whether those refugees are actually getting assistance from UNRWA.
    – Zev Spitz
    Sep 15 at 4:24
  • In addition, I'm not asking if people could be removed from UNRWA's lists; I'm asking how often this has happened, and when.
    – Zev Spitz
    Sep 15 at 4:31
  • @ZevSpitz UNRWA is very clear that registration of these events is voluntary and academic literature unsurprisingly suggests they are under-reported. I wouldn't expect dead people to be entirely removed from the database, their status is useful to assess claims by their descendants.
    – Relaxed
    Sep 15 at 9:18
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    @ZevSpitz - Given the UNRWA's repeated insistence in sticking to their "mandate", it seems unlikely the UNRWA would publish such information on-line. On-line sources, in the absence of someone with internal knowledge, is what "we" in Politics SE must rely on to document answers. Should this answer be insufficient, your specific request may be directed to a suitable contact at: unrwa.org/contact-us, or you may choose to wait for other answers.
    – Rick Smith
    Sep 15 at 15:52

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