The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR; French: Haut Commissariat des Nations unies pour les réfugiés) (also known as the UN Refugee Agency) is a United Nations programme with the mandate to protect refugees, forcibly displaced communities and stateless people, and assist in their voluntary repatriation, local integration or resettlement to a third country.
UNHCR was created in 1950, during the aftermaths of World War II. Its headquarters are in Geneva, Switzerland and it is a member of the United Nations Development Group. The UNHCR has won two Nobel Peace Prizes, once in 1954 and again in 1981 and a Prince of Asturias Awards for International Cooperation in 1991.
|United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees|
|Formation||14 December 1950|
|Type||United Nations Programme|
|High Commissioner for Refugees |
|United Nations General Assembly |
United Nations Economic and Social Council
|United Nations portal|
Following the demise of the League of Nations and the formation of the United Nations the international community was acutely aware of the refugee crisis following the end of World War II. In 1947, the International Refugee Organization (IRO) was founded by the United Nations. The IRO was the first international agency to deal comprehensively with all aspects of refugees' lives. Preceding this was the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, which was established in 1944 to address the millions of people displaced across Europe as a result of World War II.
In the late 1940s, the IRO fell out of favor, but the UN 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.
UNHCR's mandate was originally set out in its statute, annexed to resolution 428 (V) of the United Nations General Assembly of 1950. This mandate has been subsequently broadened by numerous resolutions of the General Assembly and its Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). 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.
Soon after the signing of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, it became clear that refugees were not solely restricted to Europe. In 1956, UNHCR was involved in coordinating the response to the uprising in Hungary. Just a year later, UNHCR was tasked with dealing with Chinese refugees in Hong Kong, while also responding Algerian refugees who had fled to Morocco and Tunisia in the wake of Algeria's war for independence. The responses marked the beginning of a wider, global mandate in refugee protection and humanitarian assistance.
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.
In 1967, the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees was ratified to remove the geographical and temporal restrictions of UNHCR under the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. As the Convention was confined to the refugee crisis in the aftermath of World War II in Europe, the Protocol was made to address the “new refugee situations that have arisen since the Convention was adopted and the refugees concerned that may therefore not fall within the scope of the Convention”.
In the 1970s, UNHCR refugee operations continued to spread around the globe, with the mass exodus of East Pakistanis to India shortly before the birth of Bangladesh. Adding to the woes in Asia was the Vietnam war, with millions fleeing the war-torn country.
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.
The end of the Cold War marked continued inter-ethnic conflict and contributed heavily to refugee flight. In addition, humanitarian intervention by multinational forces became more frequent and the media began to play a big role, particularly in the lead up to the 1999 NATO mission in Yugoslavia, while by contrast, the 1994 Rwandan Genocide had little attention. The genocide in Rwanda caused a massive refugee crisis, again highlighting the difficulties for UNHCR to uphold its mandate, and the UNHCR continued to battle against restrictive asylum policies in so called 'rich' nations.
UNHCR was established on 14 December 1950 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 internally displaced persons (IDPs) who would fit the legal definition of a refugee under the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and 1967 Protocol, the 1969 Organization for African Unity Convention, or some other treaty if they left their country, but who presently remain in their country of origin. UNHCR presently has major missions in Lebanon, South Sudan, Chad/Darfur, Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Afghanistan as well as Kenya to assist and provide services to IDPs and refugees in camps and in urban settings.
UNHCR maintains a database of refugee information, ProGres, which was created during the Kosovo War in the 1990s. The database today contains data on over 11 million refugees, or about 11% of all displaced persons globally. The database contains biometric data, including fingerprints and iris scans and is used to determine aid distribution for recipients. The results of using biometric verification has been successful. When introduced in Kenyan refugee camps of Kakuma and Dadaab in the year 2013, the UN World Food Programme was able to eliminate $1.4m in waste and fraud.
To achieve its mandate, the UNHCR engaged in activities both in the countries of interest and in countries with donors. For example, the UNHCR hosts expert roundtables to discuss issues of concern to the international refugee community.
The “United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East” (UNRWA) has a different definition of "refugee" from the UNHCR, limited to refugees from the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Refugees who meet the UNRWA criteria are ineligible for UNHCR services.
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.
The UNHCR works in different regions of the world to raise awareness about the refugee crisis and the needs of these refugees.
Since 2009, the UNHCR acknowledged a large presence of migration and refugees in the Caribbean, where the refugee crisis remained largely unreported. Many refugees in search for asylum in the United States are unable to reach their destination and end up in the Caribbean. However, migrant laws in most of these nations lacked any protections for asylum-seekers, even the ability to be recognized as a refugee or asylum seeker itself. The UNHCR organized talks with these nations in Costa Rica in 2009, in an effort to bring forward the lack of protections for refugees, who are often labeled as "illegal"  and prosecuted as unauthorized migrants.
In 2007, UNHCR offices in Canada launched an aggressive media campaign to shed light on the plight of refugees. This campaign was meant to humanize the refugee crisis by showing refugees living in the midst of disturbing conditions. Using emotional appeals to raise public awareness, the campaign hoped to increase the interest of particularly "30 to 45-year-old professionals who are generally well educated, well read, but have not had direct experience or knowledge of refugee issues,” according to fund-raising officer Jonathan Wade.
In Ireland, the UNHCR works to inform the public through different channels. The UNHCR in Ireland actively pursues media relations and "[they] supply the media with accurate and reliable information coupled with our unique insight based on our refugee protection mandate and role as one of the world’s leading humanitarian agencies". It also engages its community by holding public events in aims of informing people of current refugee crises. One of these is the annual UNHCR/SARI Fair play Football Cup.
As UNHCR is a program governed by the UN General Assembly, and the UN Economic and Social Council, it cooperates with many other programs and agencies under the United Nations in order to effectively protect the rights of refugees.
On 19 September 2016, UN General Assembly hosted the UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants, a high-level summit to address large movements of refugees and migrants, with the aim of bringing countries together behind a more humane and coordinated approach. Leaders of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, UN Office on Drugs and Crime, and The World Bank were present. The summit addressed the root causes and drive for migration and the necessity of global cooperation. As a result of this summit, the United Nations unveiled a draft set of principles that urge the international community to build on the momentum set by the adoption of the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants (2016). Specifically, the 20 draft principles focus on human rights; non-discrimination; rescue and assistance; access to justice; border governance; returns; violence; detention; family unity; child migrants; women migrants; right to health; adequate standard of living; decent work; right to education; right to information; monitoring and accountability; migrants’ human rights defenders; data; and international cooperation.
On 28 September 2016, the UNHCR partnered with the UN Food and Agricultural Organization in Tehran for the Solutions Strategy for Afghan Refugees. FAO highlighted the contributions to be made by FAO towards SSAR objectives on livelihood related activities including livestock and fishery initiatives as well as nutritional projects in Iranian schools.
FAO and UNHCR are committed to increasing refugees’ access to livelihood opportunities and reducing dependency on humanitarian aid. Of late, a joint livelihood strategy for South Sudan was launched looking to address this issue with a clearly defined action plan. The strategy targets both refugees (70 percent) and local communities (30 percent) in refugee-hosting areas across the country.
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. The UNHCR has been chosen for the prestigious Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament and Development 2015.
In 1991 was awarded with the prestigious Prince of Asturias Award for International Cooperation.
The UNHCR's Mid-Year Trends report of June 2015 (based on information for mid-2015 or latest available information up to that date) reported an "unprecedented" 57,959,702 individuals falling under its mandate (for reference, on January the 1st, 2007, 21,018,589 people - or less than half of the number in 2015 - fell under the mandate of the UNHCR). The sharp increase was mainly attributed to the Syrian Civil War, "with the outbreak of armed crises or the deterioration of ongoing ones in countries like Afghanistan, Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali, Somalia, South Sudan and the Ukraine contributing to prevailing trends."
Sorted by the UNHCR bureau in which asylum is sought, the number for June 2015 included:
As of November 2018, the UNHCR employed a staff of 16,765 people in 138 countries.
The UN General Assembly elects High Commissioners every five years. High Commissioners are supported by the 'Executive Committee to the High Commissioner’s Programme' and he or she has to make annual reports to the UN General Assembly and needs to follow their directives. The current High Commissioner is Filippo Grandi, who has held the post since 1 January 2016. Prior to the establishment of the UNHCR, Fridtjof Nansen was the League of Nations High Commissioner of the Nansen International Office for Refugees, from 1922. The post of High Commissioner has been held by:
|№||High Commissioner||Took office||Left office||Time in office||Nationality|
League of Nations High Commissioner
|1||Gerrit Jan van Heuven Goedhart|
|1 January 1951||8 July 1956||5 years, 189 days||Netherlands|
|2||August R. Lindt|
|8 July 1956||3 November 1960||4 years, 118 days||Switzerland|
|3 November 1960||December 1965||5 years||Switzerland|
|4||Sadruddin Aga Khan|
|December 1965||31 December 1977||12 years||Iran|
|1 January 1978||31 December 1985||7 years, 364 days||Denmark|
|1 January 1986||31 December 1989||3 years, 364 days||Switzerland|
|1 January 1990||3 November 1990||306 days||Norway|
|3 November 1990||31 December 2000||10 years, 59 days||Japan|
(Resigned due to internal investigation)
|1 January 2001||20 February 2005||4 years, 50 days||Netherlands|
|24 February 2005||2 June 2005||98 days||United States|
|2 June 2005||31 December 2015||10 years, 212 days||Portugal|
|1 January 2016||Incumbent||3 years, 114 days||Italy|
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 Filipo Grandi 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.
UNHCR is also represented by a number of UNHCR Goodwill Ambassadors, who at present are:
Previous ambassadors include:
Afghan refugees are nationals of Afghanistan who left their country as a result of major wars or persecution. The 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan marks the first wave of internal displacement and refugee flow from Afghanistan to neighboring Pakistan and Iran that began providing shelter to Afghan refugees. When the Soviet war ended in 1989, these refugees started to return to their homeland. In April 1992, a major civil war began after the mujahideen took over control of Kabul and the other major cities. Afghans again fled to neighboring countries.
A total of 6.3 million Afghan refugees were hosted in Pakistan and Iran by 1990. As of 2013, Afghanistan was the largest refugee-producing country in the world, a title held for 32 years. Afghans are currently the second largest refugee group after Syrian refugees. The majority of Afghan refugees (95%) are located in Iran and Pakistan. Some countries that were part of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) took in small number of Afghans that worked with their respective forces. Ethnic minorities, like Afghan Sikhs and Hindus, often fled to India.Anders Johnsson (jurist)
Anders B. Johnsson (born 1948) is a Swedish jurist and a former Secretary General of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU).Barbara Hendricks
Barbara Hendricks (born November 20, 1948) is an American operatic soprano and concert singer. Hendricks has lived in Europe since 1977, and in Switzerland in Basel since 1985. She is a citizen of Sweden following her marriage to a Swedish citizen.Felix Schnyder
Felix Schnyder (5 March 1910 – 8 November 1992) was a Swiss lawyer and diplomat. He served as Chairman of UNICEF in 1960 and as United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees from 1960 to 1965.Filippo Grandi
Filippo Grandi (born 1957 in Milan) is an Italian diplomat who is mainly active with the United Nations' humanitarian operations. Between 2010 and 2014, he served as Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). He had earlier (since 2005) served as its Deputy Commissioner-General. On 11 November 2015 UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced his intention to appoint Grandi as the next United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to take office in 2016.Giorgio Armani
Giorgio Armani (Italian pronunciation: [ˈdʒordʒo arˈmaːni]; born 11 July 1934) is an Italian fashion designer. He is known today for his clean, tailored lines. He formed his company, Armani, in 1975, and by 2001 was acclaimed as the most successful designer of Italian origin, with an annual turnover of $1.6 billion and a personal fortune of $8.1 billion as of 2017. He is credited with pioneering red-carpet fashion.Humanitarian visa
Humanitarian visas are granted by some countries to fulfill their international obligation to protecting refugees from persecution. The Convention relating to the Status of Refugees is often used as the main criteria in assessing whether or not there is a legitimate claim for protection, as this defines a refugee as a person:
who is outside their country of origin or legal residence
who is unable, or unwilling to return to their country of legal residence because of a legitimate fear of persecution regarding their race, religion, nationality, group membership, or a political belief, as defined by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
who has not been convicted of a serious crime by a fair tribunal.Persons primarily seeking better economic opportunities may reasonably quote war, famine or environmental disasters as their main motive for leaving their countries of legal residence, for which reason humanitarian visas may be difficult to obtain.International Refugee Organization
The International Refugee Organization (IRO) was an intergovernmental organization founded on 20 April 1946 to deal with the massive refugee problem created by World War II. A Preparatory Commission began operations fourteen months previously. In 1948, the treaty establishing the IRO formally entered into force and the IRO became a United Nations specialized agency. The IRO assumed most of the functions of the earlier United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. In 1952, operations of the IRO ceased, and it was replaced by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
The Constitution of the International Refugee Organization, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 15 December 1946, is the founding document of the IRO. The constitution specified the organization's field of operations. Controversially, the constitution defined "persons of German ethnic origin" who had been expelled, or were to be expelled from their countries of birth into the postwar Germany, as individuals who would "not be the concern of the Organization." This excluded from its purview a group that exceeded in number all the other European displaced persons put together. Also, because of disagreements between the Western allies and the Soviet Union, the IRO only worked in areas controlled by Western armies of occupation.
Twenty-six states became members of the IRO and it formally came into existence in 1948: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Republic of China, Chile, Denmark, the Dominican Republic, France, Guatemala, Honduras, Iceland, Italy, Liberia, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Panama, Peru, the Philippines, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Venezuela. The U.S. provided about 40% of the IRO's $155 million annual budget. The total contribution by the members for the five years of operation was around $400 million. It had rehabilitated around 10 million people during this time, out of 15 million people who were stranded in Europe. The IRO's first Director General was William Hallam Tuck, succeeded by J. Donald Kingsley on 31 July 1949.IRO closed its operations on 31 January 1952 and after a liquidation period, went out of existence on 30 September 1953. By that time many of its responsibilities had been assumed by other agencies. Of particular importance was the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees, established in January 1951 as a part of the United Nations, and the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration (originally PICMME), set up in December 1951.Jesús Vázquez (television presenter)
Jesús Vázquez Martínez (born 9 September 1965) is a Spanish television presenter. In 2008 he became the first Spaniard to be selected as a Goodwill Ambassador for the UN Refugee Agency.Julien Clerc
Paul Alain Leclerc (born 4 October 1947), better known by his stage name Julien Clerc (pronounced [ʒy.ljɛ̃ klɛʁ]), is a French singer-songwriter.Justus Frantz
Justus Frantz (born 18 May 1944 in Inowrocław, Poland, then Hohensalza, Germany) is a German pianist, conductor, and television personality.Karen Koning AbuZayd
Karen Koning AbuZayd (born 1941) is an American diplomat. On 5 January 2016, she was appointed United Nations Special Adviser on the Summit on Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants held in September 2016.Prior to this she was a Commissioner-General for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) from June 28, 2005 to January 20, 2010 appointed by Kofi Annan. She was succeeded by her deputy Filippo Grandi. She currently serves on the board of directors of UNRWA USA, a Washington-DC based 501c3 nonprofit which aims to educate the general American public about the situation of Palestine refugees and generate support for UNRWA's work.Muazzez Ersoy
Hatice Yıldız Levent, better known by her stage name Muazzez Ersoy, (born 9 August 1958) is a Turkish classical music singer. In 1998, with the suggestion of the 33rd government of Turkey's Ministry of Culture, she was chosen as a State Artist. Due to singing nostalgic songs, she is also known with the title "Nostalgia Queen" inside Turkey. In 2006, she was chosen as a goodwill ambassador for United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.Ersoy spent her childhood and early adulthood in Kasımpaşa, Beyoğlu. She became initially interested in music due to her mother's affinity for music. This passion of her mother influenced Ersoy during her youth, and after finishing secondary school, she decided to continue her studies by taking music lessons. She took lessons from music teachers such as İrfan Özbakır and Baki Duyarlar. She did a «clerkship» and spent her savings on music lessons.
Ersoy, who achieved great sales with her nostalgia album series, recently rerecorded the pop songs that were released in the 90s. In the album titled “90’dan POP”, Ersoy performed the songs of Tarkan, Sezen Aksu, Serdar Ortaç, Yıldız Tilbe, Harun Kolçak, Eda and Metin Özülkü, and released the first music video of the album for Serdar Ortaç's song "Değmez".She also hosted the TV program "Yıldız Akşamı" on TRT Müzik.Nansen Refugee Award
The UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award is awarded annually by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to an individual, group, or organization in recognition of outstanding service to the cause of refugees, displaced or stateless people. It was established in 1954.Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Goodwill Ambassador
UNHCR Goodwill Ambassadors are celebrity representatives of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) who use their talent and fame to advocate for refugees.Osvaldo Laport
Rubens Osvaldo Jesús Udaquiola Laport (born August 12, 1956, in Juan Lacaze, Uruguay) is a Uruguayan-Argentine actor and UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador. In 2000, he earned Martín Fierro Award for his portrayal in television comedy Campeones de la Vida.Statelessness
In international law, a stateless person is someone who is "not considered as a national by any state under the operation of its law". Some stateless persons are also refugees. However, not all refugees are stateless, and many persons who are stateless have never crossed an international border. On 13 November, 2018, Filippo Grandi, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said there are about 12 million stateless people in the world.United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Representation in Cyprus
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Representation in Cyprus is an office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) opened in August 1974 upon the request of the Government of Cyprus and the Secretary-General of the United Nations. UNHCR Representation in Cyprus was designated as Coordinator of the United Nations Humanitarian Assistance for Cyprus. UNHCR was also responsible upon the request of the Cyprus Government to examine applications for refugee status. Simultaneously, UNHCR assisted the Government in developing their national legislation and procedure for the examination of asylum claims. The law came into life in 2000 and in January 2002 the Cyprus Government started receiving and processing asylum applications.The UNHCR Representation in Cyprus offices are located in the United Nations Protected Area (UNPA), where the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) is based. Access to UNPA is restricted and tightly controlled by UNFIYP, through check points and other forms of surveillance.Virendra Dayal
Virendra Dayal (born 29 January 1935) is a retired Indian Administrative Service officer and United Nations civil servant who served as Chef de Cabinet to Secretary General of the United Nations for more than a decade. He has served as the director of the Office of Special Political Affairs of the United Nations and as the special envoy who probed the allegations levelled against a number of India politicians including Natwar Singh, a former Minister of External affairs, in the Paul Volcker Committee report of 2005. A former Indian Administrative Service officer and a Rhodes Scholar of 1956 Dayal sat on the National Human Rights Commission of India as a member for two terms from 1998 to 2006. The Government of India awarded him the third highest civilian honour of the Padma Bhushan, in 1992, for his contributions to society.