United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is a wing of the United Nations and was established on December 14, 1950 by the United Nations General Assembly.  The UNHCR’s stated mission is to lead and co-ordinate international action to protect refugees and asylum seekers as also to resolve refugee problems worldwide.  Its primary purpose is to safeguard the rights and well-being of refugees.  UNHCR has a mandate to help stateless people and strives to ensure that everyone can exercise the right to seek asylum and find safe refuge in another State, with the option to return home voluntarily, integrate locally or to resettle in a third country.  The agency has presence in more than 110 countries and about 34million people are the direct beneficiaries of UNHCR’s assistance programs.

UNHCR helps in providing a safety net to the displaced persons who were forced to flee their countries due to internal coups or external invasions or fear of persecution.  The beneficiaries of UNHCR activities include asylum seekers, children, internally displaced people, older people, people with disabilities, refugees, returnees and stateless people.  UNHCR invokes the provisions of 1951 Geneva Refugee Convention to enforce the rights of the homeless.  When citizens are disowned by their national governments and fear persecution, UNHCR ensures their basic human rights in the countries where they seek asylum or habitual residence and ensure that the refugees will not be returned involuntarily to a country where they could face persecution.  As a long-term solution, the agency also helps the homeless by repatriating voluntarily to their homeland or integrating them in countries of asylum.  In the case of refugees fearing continuous persecution in their home country, the UNHCR make the arrangement for resettling such refugees in third countries.  The agency promotes international refugee agreements and helps states to establish asylum structures.  From 2001, June 20 is being celebrated as World Refugee Day.

UNHCR assist refugees to obtain refugee registration and provide assistance and advice on asylum applications.  It also provide life-saving emergency assistance in the form of “clean water and sanitation and health care as well as shelter materials and other relief items, such as blankets, sleeping mats, jerry cans, household goods and food.”

UNHCR is committed to assist the displaced persons to rebuild their lives and helps them to live with dignity and it provide arrangements for voluntary repatriation of the refugees through various means, including organizing “go-and-see” visits for refugees, compiling updated information on their country and region of origin, engaging in peace and reconciliation activities, promoting housing and property restitution, and providing return assistance and legal aid to returnees.  UNHCR seeks to reduce situations of forced displacement by encouraging states to create conditions which are conducive to the protection of human rights and the peaceful settlement of disputes.  The agency always gives special emphasis to promote the rights of women and children.  The influx of refugees in large numbers put a pressure on the natural resources of the host country.  UNHCR has developed an overarching policy to deal with environmental issues.

In the resettlement country, the refugees receive legal and physical protection, and are entitled to civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights similar to those enjoyed by nationals.  Refugees are also allowed to become naturalized citizens of such countries.  In 2008, UNHCR referred more than 121,000 refugees for consideration by resettlement countries – the highest number in 15 years.  By nationality, the main beneficiaries of UNHCR-facilitated resettlement programmes were refugees from Iraq (33,512), Myanmar (30,388), and Bhutan (23,516).  In 2008, 65,548 refugees departed to 26 resettlement countries, compared to 49,868 refugees in 2007.  The largest number of refugees resettled with UNHCR assistance departed from Thailand (16,807) followed by Nepal (8,165), Syria (7,153), Jordan (6,704) and Malaysia (5,865).

The UNHCR is headquartered in Geneva and is governed by the UN General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).  The UNHCR Executive Committee approves the agency’s biennial programmes and the corresponding budget.  The Executive Committee comprises of 78 members.  The High Commissioner reports annually to ECOSOC and the General Assembly on the work of UNHCR.  The High Commissioner is responsible for the direction and control of UNHCR with the assistance of a Deputy High Commissioner and Assistant High Commissioners for Protection and Operations.  UNHCR’s core work is managed from a series of regional offices, branch offices, sub-offices and field offices.

Resource mobilization in UNHCR is done by direct, voluntary contributions and majority funding is done by donor nations.  Non-governmental organizations (NGO), private sector, including corporations, trusts, foundations and individual citizens also make significant contributions.  Administrative costs are met through a small annual subsidy from the regular budget of the United Nations.

In 2009, UNHCR initiated a worldwide a Global Needs Assessment (GNA) to determine “the real needs of refugees and internally displaced people, the costs of meeting those needs and the consequences of any gaps.  The GNA was started as a pilot project in 2008 in eight countries – Cameroon, Ecuador, Georgia, Rwanda, Tanzania, Thailand, Yemen and Zambia – and found that there were gaps in several areas, including shelter, health, education, food security, sanitation and the prevention of sexual violence.”  The GNA is an integral part of UNHCR operations.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees


Inside United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees