The camp was established in 1949 with a population of 13,000 Palestinians from the broader Gaza area. A small percentage of the refugees were housed in the British army barracks but the bulk of them were housed in tents. The UNRWA built concrete homes in 1950 to replace the tents.
Most of the refugees today, like those in most camps in the Gaza Strip today, live in densely populated buildings. The camp does not have a sewage system and most waste accumulates in the Wadi Gaza, a stream north of the camp, and as a result poses a health hazard. Most of the camp's water comes from an Israeli water company.
Bureij has six primary and two secondary schools with a population of 9,306 pupils at the end of 2004. All schools are operated by the UNRWA.
On the night of 28 August 1953 bombs were thrown through the windows of huts in which refugees were sleeping and, as they fled, they were attacked by small arms and automatic weapons. According to Gelber, after one month of Unit 101 starting training "a patrol of the unit infiltrated into the Gaza Strip as an exercise, encountered in al-Bureij refugee camp, opened fire to rescue itself and left behind about 30 killed Arabs and dozens of wounded." According to Bishara 43 Palestinian civilians with seven women amongst them were killed, and 22 wounded. The Mixed Armistice Commission report put the total at " 20" killed and twenty-seven seriously wounded and thirty-five less seriously wounded. Unit 101 suffered two wounded soldiers. Ariel Sharon, who had personally led the attack wrote in his report:
The raid was heavily condemned by the Mixed Armistice Commission, who called it “an appalling case of deliberate mass murder”, the raid was publicly criticized in the Israeli cabinet by at least one minister. The Mixed Armistice Commission, in an emergency meeting, adopted by a majority vote a resolution according to which the attack was made by a group of armed Israelis. Major General Bennike Chief of Staff of the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization stated that it was "probable in view of the fact that a quarter of the Israel complaints during the preceding four weeks referred to infiltration in this area" that the likely explanation was a "ruthless reprisal raid".