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United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
Abbreviation UNHCR
Formation December 14, 1950
Legal status Active
Head António Guterres
Parent organization United Nations

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), also known as the UN Refugee Agency, is a [2]


  • History 1
  • Function 2
    • Palestine refugee mandate 2.1
    • Public awareness 2.2
    • Awards 2.3
  • Persons of concern to UNHCR 3
  • Staffing 4
    • High Commissioners 4.1
    • Special Envoy of High Commissioner António Guterres 4.2
    • Goodwill ambassadors 4.3
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

Following the demise of the [3]

In the late 1940s, the IRO fell out of favor, but the United Nations agreed that a body was required to oversee global refugee issues. Despite many heated debates in the General Assembly, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees was founded as a subsidiary organ of the General Assembly by Resolution 319 (IV) of the United Nations General Assembly of December 1949. However, the organization was only intended to operate for 3 years, from January 1951, due to the disagreement of many UN member states over the implications of a permanent body.[3]

UNHCR's mandate was originally set out in its Statute, annexed to Resolution 428 (V) of the [3] According to UNHCR,

[its] mandate is to provide, on a non-political and humanitarian basis, international protection to refugees and to seek permanent solutions for them.[3]

Soon after the signing of the [3]

Decolonization in the 1960s triggered large refugee movements in Africa, creating a massive challenge that would transform UNHCR; unlike the refugee crises in Europe, there were no durable solutions in Africa and many refugees who fled one country only found instability in their new country of asylum. By the end of the decade, two thirds of UNHCR's budget was focused on operations in Africa and in just one decade, the organization's focus had shifted from an almost exclusive focus on Europe.[3]

In the 1970s, UNHCR refugee operations continued to spread around the globe, with the mass exodus of East Pakistanis to [3]

The 1980s saw new challenges for UNHCR, with many member states unwilling to resettle refugees due to the sharp rise in refugee numbers over the 1970s. Often, these refugees were not fleeing wars between states, but inter-ethnic conflict in newly independent states. The targeting of civilians as military strategy added to the displacement in many nations, so even 'minor' conflicts could result in a large number of displaced persons. Whether in Asia, Central America or Africa, these conflicts, fueled by superpower rivalry and aggravated by socio-economic problems within the concerned countries, durable solutions continued to prove a massive challenge for the UNHCR. As a result, the UNHCR became more heavily involved with assistance programs within refugee camps, often located in hostile environments.[3]

The end of the [3]


UNHCR packages containing tents, tarps, and mosquito netting sit in a field in Dadaab, Kenya, on 11 December 2006, following disastrous flooding

UNHCR was established on 14 December 1950[4] and succeeded the earlier United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. The agency is mandated to lead and co-ordinate international action to protect refugees and resolve refugee problems worldwide. Its primary purpose is to safeguard the rights and well-being of refugees. It 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.

UNHCR's mandate has gradually been expanded to include protecting and providing humanitarian assistance to whom it describes as other persons "of concern," including Lebanon, South Sudan, Chad/Darfur, Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Afghanistan as well as Kenya to assist and provide services to IDPs and refugees.

Palestine refugee mandate

Most Palestinian refugees – those in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan – do not come within the responsibility of the UNHCR, but instead come under an older body, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). The UNRWA has a much broader definition of "refugee" than the UNHCR, including not only refugees themselves but their descendants in perpetuity; however, it only covers refugees stemming from the 1948 and 1967 Arab-Israeli wars. Other Palestinian refugees outside of UNRWA's area of operations do fall under UNHCR's mandate, if they meet the UNHCR's more limited definition of refugee.

Public awareness

UNHCR 50th anniversary. Stamp of Tajikistan, 2001.

Several new programs have recently been introduced to support and to heighten awareness of the issues faced by refugees around the world. These two new programs are a product of the benchmarks set out by the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.


Since 1954, the UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award has been annually awarded to a person or an organization in recognition of outstanding service to the cause of refugees, displaced or stateless people.

The UNHCR itself was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1954 and 1981.

Persons of concern to UNHCR

As of 1 January 2007, UNHCR reported a total of 21 018 589 individuals falling under its mandate.

  • 7,979,251 in Asia, of which
    Aerial view of Zaatari refugee camp for Syrian refugees in Jordan, July 2013
    • 2,580,638 in the Middle-East
    • 2,974,315 in South-East Asia
    • 218,584 in Central Asia
    • 1,304,189 in South Asia
    • 901,525 in East Asia and the Pacific
  • 4,740,392 in Europe, of which
    • 1,617,214 in Eastern Europe
    • 708,132 in South-East Europe
    • 616,132 in Central Europe and in the Baltic states
    • 1,798,914 in Western Europe
  • 5,069,123 in Africa, of which
    • 1,359,175 in Central Africa and the Great Lakes region
    • 2,105,314 in Eastern Africa
    • 1,031,030 in Western Africa
    • 434,427 in the Southern African region
    • 139,177 in North Africa


As of April 2008, the UNHCR employed a staff of 6,351 people in 117 countries.[5]

High Commissioners

The post of High Commissioner has been held by:

Prior to the establishment of UNHCR, Fridtjof Nansen was the League of Nations High Commissioner of the Nansen International Office for Refugees, from 1922.

Special Envoy of High Commissioner António Guterres

After 10 years serving as a Goodwill Ambassador, Angelina Jolie was promoted in 2012 to Special Envoy to the High Commissioner. In this role she represents the UNHCR and High Commissioner António Guterres at the diplomatic level and works to facilitate long-term solutions for people displaced by large-scale crises, such as Afghanistan and Somalia. "This is an exceptional position reflecting an exceptional role she has played for us," said a UNHCR spokesman.

Goodwill ambassadors

UNHCR is also represented by a number of UNHCR Goodwill Ambassadors, who at present are:

Previous ambassadors include:

See also


  1. ^ UNDG Members. Retrieved on 2013-07-12.
  2. ^ "Nobel Laureates Facts – Organizations".  
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Refworld | Self-Study Module 1: An Introduction to International Protection. Protecting Persons of Concern to UNHCR. (2005-08-01). Retrieved on 2013-07-12.
  4. ^ "History of UNHCR: A global humanitarian organization of humble origins". UNHCR. Retrieved 2009-11-01. 
  5. ^ "Basic facts". UNHCR. Retrieved 3 October 2010. 
  • Gil Loescher, Alexander Betts and James Milner. UNHCR: The Politics and Practice of Refugee Protection into the Twenty-First Century, Routledge. 2008.
  • Alexander Betts. Protection by Persuasion: International Cooperation in the Refugee Regime, Cornell University Press. 2009.
  • Gil Loescher. The UNHCR and World Politics: A Perilous Path. Oxford University Press. 2002
  • Fiona Terry. Condemned to Repeat? The Paradox of Humanitarian Action. Cornell University Press. 2002.
  • Nicholas Steiner. Problems of Protection. Routledge. 2003.

External links

  • Official website
  • UNHCR's "Refworld" refugee document and news web site: from UNHCR's Status Determination and Protection Information Section (SDPIS) in the Division of International Protection Services (DIPS).
  • Bottled Water Program in Support of the UNHCR
  • News from UNHCR official website
  • "Basic facts" from official website
  • Measuring Protection by Numbers, Report from official website
  • United Nations Rule of Law: The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, on the rule of law work conducted by the High Commissioner for Refugees.
  • History of the United Nations – UK Government site
  • "Who is a Refugee and who is not – the Crisis of Identity as a Challenge to Protection" Online video of an address by Ms. Erika Feller, Director, Department of International Protection, UNHCR, in 2005
  • USCRI's Campaign to End Refugee Warehousing
  • USCRI's joint Statement Calling for Solutions to End the Warehousing of Refugees
  • "Prisons of the Stateless: The Derelictions of UNHCR" by Jacob Stevens
  • Nine Million
  • EarthWater
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