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World Refugee Day

Created by the United Nations in the year 2000, World Refugee Day (June 20) is meant to raise awareness about refugees and the circumstances they face. Today, we are commemorating the strength, courage, and resilience of millions of refugees worldwide, including UNRWA's staff in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank (including East Jerusalem), Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria, who are the backbone of UNRWA.

Something many people don't know about UNRWA is that unlike any other UN agency, UNRWA carries out all of its own work by a staff that is 99% Palestine refugees themselves. This means nearly all UNRWA's 30,000+ teachers, school principals, doctors, nurses, mental health counselors, engineers, relief and social workers, guards and administrative staff are refugees recruited locally to serve their fellow refugees.

UNRWA in Syria 

In places like Syria, where UNRWA serves half a million Palestine refugees, front-line humanitarian workers are risking their own lives to save others and alleviate the suffering of the most vulnerable.

Dr. Sana’a Mahmoud Ayoub, a Palestine refugee from Yarmouk and UNRWA health worker, is one example.

Every morning when I arrive at work, I feel blessed because I can make a difference and help people who are in a greater need.
— Dr. Sana'a, UNRWA health worker and Palestine refugee in Syria

Like many others, Dr. Sana’a fled Yarmouk with her family when fighting escalated in December 2012. In spite of the difficulties of displacement and instability, she has never stopped assisting refugees in dire need of healthcare at the UNRWA Damascus Training Centre collective shelter in Syria.

 Dr. Sana'a, a mother and a doctor, listens to her patients of all ages at the UNRWA Damascus Training Centre collective shelter, Syria

Dr. Sana'a, a mother and a doctor, listens to her patients of all ages at the UNRWA Damascus Training Centre collective shelter, Syria

“My relationship with my patients goes beyond treating their pain; some like to share their journey and hardship. I listen to them and feel their sadness. Sometimes, the only treatment they need is words,” Dr. Sana’a adds. “Their stories are tainted with the violence they witnessed during the last five years. Their faces reveal strain and hopelessness, but you can still feel the strength and courage developed through the psychosocial support UNRWA provides them with,” she continues.

The 40-year-old mother of four contributes her time, talent, and efficiency to the service of Palestine refugees in Syria. Her busy humanitarian work schedule keeps her at times from spending quality time with family and friends. Her energy and capabilities have made her more than a medical officer. She is known by refugees as the compassionate caretaker and friend.  

Dr. Sana'a believes that it is vital for UNRWA to assist Palestine refugees, many of whom suffer from relentless misery and despair as the conflict intensifies. On her work experience with refugees, she tells us:

It’s very emotional because you see first-hand people living in extremely difficult conditions, but it’s also inspiring because you notice on the other hand how resilient and determined they are to keep going forward.

Despite all of the personal losses and the constraints faced on a daily basis, Dr. Sana'a and UNRWA staff continue to work with full dedication to support ongoing emergency operations and maintain high ethical standards while serving the Palestine refugees of Syria. 

Today, and every day, we honor, acknowledge, and thank Dr. Sana'a, her fellow UNRWA colleagues in Syria, and the more than 30,000 UNRWA refugee staff for their resilience and commitment to serving their Palestine refugee community across the Middle East.