During the 1948 Palestine War, around 85% (720,000 people) of the Palestinian Arab population of what became Israel fled or were expelled from their homes, to the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and to the countries of Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. They, and their descendants, who are also entitled to registration, are assisted by UNWRA in 59 registered camps, 10 of which were established in the aftermath of the Six-Day War in 1967 to cope with new Palestinian refugees. Being the only refugees in the world to be mainly inherited, including unregistered, displaced persons and refugee descendants, the Palestinian Arab refugee and displaced population has grown to be the second largest in the world, after an estimated 11,000,000 Syrians displaced by the Syrian Civil War. They are also the world's oldest unsettled refugee population, having been under the ongoing governance of Arab states following the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, the refugee populations of the West Bank under Israeli governance since the Six-Day War, and the Gaza Strip administered by the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) since 2007. Citizenship or legal residency in host countries is denied in Lebanon where the absorption of Palestinians would upset a delicate confessional balance, but available in Jordan where approximately 40% of UNWRA-registered Palestinian refugees have acquired full citizenship rights.
On 11 December 1948, the UN General Assembly in non-binding Resolution 194, Article 11 resolved that the refugees who wish to "live at peace with their neighbors ... should be permitted" to return to their homes at the "earliest practicable date" This forms one basis for the Palestinian political claim for a 'Palestinian right of return'.
An independent poll conducted in 2003 with the Palestinian populations of Gaza, West Bank, Jordan and Lebanon showed that the majority (54%) would accept a financial compensation and a place to live in West Bank or Gaza in place of returning to the exact place in modern-day Israel where they or their ancestors lived (this possibility of settlement is contemplated in the Resolution 194). Only 10% said they would live in Israel if given the option.
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) is an organ of the United Nations created exclusively for the purpose of aiding those displaced by the Arab–Israeli conflict, with an annual budget of approximately $600 million. It defines a "Palestine refugee" as a person "whose normal place of residence was Mandatory Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948, who lost both their homes and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 Arab–Israeli conflict". UNRWA aids all "those living in its area of operations who meet this definition, who are registered with the Agency and who need assistance" and those who first became refugees as a result of the Six-Day War, regardless whether they reside in areas designated as Palestine refugee camps or in other permanent communities.
A Palestine refugee camp is "a plot of land placed at the disposal of UNRWA by the host government to accommodate Palestine refugees and to set up facilities to cater to their needs". Only around 1.4 million of registered Palestine refugees, approximately one-third, live in the 58 UNRWA-recognised refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. The UNRWA definition does not cover final status.