United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)

Haut commissariat des Nations Unies pour les réfugiés (HCR)
Oficina del Alto Comisionado de las Naciones Unidas para los Refugiados (ACNUR)

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1 Jan 1951, initially for a 3-year period, by General Assembly Resolutions: 319 (IV) of 3 Dec 1949; 428 (V) of 14 Dec 1950. Subsequently, the mandate of the High Commissioner's Office was renewed at 5-year intervals until 2003 when the time limitation was removed and the mandate extended until the refugee problem is solved, by General Assembly Resolution 58/153 of 22 Dec 2003. Previous organizations from which UNHCR developed were: League of Nations High Commission for Refugees, set up in 1921, within the framework of League of Nations (SDN); Nansen International Office for Refugees, set up 30 Sep 1930, Geneva (Switzerland), replacing the High Commission as an autonomous body under the authority of the League; 'High Commission for Refugees coming from Germany', set up in 1933; Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees under the Protection of the League, established 1 Jan 1939, London (UK), superseding these two latter bodies. UNHCR is not a specialized agency but a programme within the United Nations System, forming an integral part of United Nations (UN) linked to the General Assembly and to United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). Based in Geneva (Switzerland).


Provide international protection to refugees and seek durable solutions to their plight; extend assistance to other groups, notably returnees, internally displaced, stateless persons and others in need of international protection.

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The basis of refugee protection activities is the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which was drawn up in parallel with the creation of UNHCR. This legally binding treaty defines the term 'refugee' as: 'a person who, owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable to or, owing to such fears is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country'. The convention enunciates the principle of 'non-refoulement', under which no person may be returned against his/her will to a territory where he or she may be exposed to persecution; and sets standards for the treatment of refugees, including their legal status, employment and welfare. The Convention originally concerned only people who had become refugees as a result of events that took place before 1 Jan 1951; and signatory States had the option of limiting its geographical application to Europe. Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees abolished the 1951 dateline, making the Convention truly universal. By Dec 2008, 147 States were party to one or both of these instruments. UNHCR promotes accession to the Convention and its 1967 Protocol. Other relevant legal instruments include:

 • Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons;

 • Convention on the Reduction of the Number of Cases of Statelessness;

 • Agreement Relating to Refugee Seamen;

 • Protocol Relating to Refugee Seamen;

 • European Agreement on the Abolition of Visas for Refugees;

 • OAU Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa;

 • African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa.

Other important texts related to refugee protection activities are:

 • Inter-American Convention on Human Rights (Pact of San José de Costa Rica), adopted by the Inter-American Specialized Conference on Human Rights;

 • Cartagena Declaration of 1984.

Measures in favour of refugees have also been adopted in the legislation of a number of countries.

/Internally displaced persons/ Since 2005, working in close collaboration with other concerned organizations to establish an effective inter-agency framework for action in response to the challenges of protecting and finding solutions for IDPs due to conflict and human rights abuses. Has leadership role for the protection, emergency shelter and camp coordination and camp management clusters in situations of conflict-induced internal displacement.

/Material assistance/ is provided when shelter, food supplies, medical aid or other forms of relief are required on a large scale, from the outset of an emergency until such time as the beneficiaries have found a solution to their plight. Particular attention is paid to the needs of refugee women, children, adolescents and the elderly.

/Durable solutions/ The solution benefiting most refugees is voluntary repatriation, whereby refugees return to their homes and resume their lives in a sustainable manner. When repatriation is impossible, UNHCR tries to help refugees settle locally in the country of asylum. When neither of these solutions is possible, resettlement in third countries is explored for people who meet specific criteria. Resettlement remains an important instrument of international protection.

/Preventing refugee crises/ Increasingly involved in development initiatives from the outset of refugee crises. Such efforts frequently take place in the broader context of humanitarian-development cooperation.

/Population of concern to UNHCR/ In 2017, the number of persons 'of concern' stood at 65.6 million. This reflects various increases in numbers among the different groups assisted, including refugees, returnees, IDPs, asylum-seekers and stateless persons.

/Cooperation with other organizations/ In 2017, disbursed US$ 1,500,000,000 to over 1,000 partners. Also maintains strong ties with partners in the UN system and remains engaged in the work of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee.

Instrumental in setting up: Inter-Governmental Consultations on Migration, Asylum and Refugees (IGC).


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English, French.


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Relations with Inter-Governmental Organizations

Relations with 1 inter-governmental organizations.
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Relations with Non-Governmental Organizations

Relations with 2 non-governmental organizations.
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Members in 102 countries
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Type I Classification

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Type II Classification

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Subjects *

  • Society
    • Refugees
  • Government
    • Officials
  • International Relations
    • United Nations

UN Sustainable Development Goals **

GOAL 1: No PovertyGOAL 2: Zero HungerGOAL 3: Good Health and Well-beingGOAL 4: Quality EducationGOAL 5: Gender EqualityGOAL 6: Clean Water and SanitationGOAL 7: Affordable and Clean EnergyGOAL 8: Decent Work and Economic GrowthGOAL 9: Industry, Innovation and InfrastructureGOAL 10: Reduced InequalityGOAL 11: Sustainable Cities and CommunitiesGOAL 12: Responsible Consumption and ProductionGOAL 13: Climate ActionGOAL 14: Life Below WaterGOAL 15: Life on LandGOAL 16: Peace and Justice Strong InstitutionsGOAL 17: Partnerships to achieve the Goal



Last News Received

24. Apr 2018
* Subject classification is derived from the organization names and aims.
** UN SDGs are linked to the subject classification.

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