UNRWA is the only UN agency dedicated to helping refugees from a specific region or conflict and is separate from UNHCR.
Formed in 1950, UNHCR is the main UN refugee agency, which is responsible for aiding other refugees all over the world. Unlike UNRWA, UNHCR has a specific mandate to aid its refugees to eliminate their refugee status by local integration in current country, resettlement in a third country or repatriation when possible. UNRWA allows refugee status to be inherited by descendants!
UNRWA has had to develop a working definition of "refugee" to allow it to provide humanitarian assistance. Its definition does not cover final status.
Palestine refugees are defined as "persons whose regular 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."
The descendants of Palestine refugee males, including adopted children, are also eligible for registration as refugees. When the Agency began operations in 1950, it was responding to the needs of about 750,000 Palestine refugees. Today, some 5 million Palestine refugees are registered as eligible for UNRWA services even though many of them are citizens of other countries including the US.
UNRWA provides facilities in 59 recognized refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip, and in other areas where large numbers of registered Palestine refugees live outside of recognized camps. Refugee camps, which developed from tent cities to dense urban dwellings similar to their urban surroundings, house around one third of all registered Palestine refugees.