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Small Flag of the United Nations ZP.svg United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
UNHCR packages containing tents, tarps, and mosquito netting sit in a field in Dadaab, Kenya, on 11 December 2006, following disastrous flooding.
Org type Programme
Acronyms UNHCR
Head António Guterres
Established 1950

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR; established December 14, 1950) is a United Nations agency mandated to protect and support refugees at the request of a government or the UN itself and assists in their voluntary repatriation, local integration or resettlement to a third country. Its headquarters are in Geneva, Switzerland.



UNHCR was established on 14 December 1950[1] 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.


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). But 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

Several new programmes 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.


UNHCR 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
    • 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


The UNHCR employs a staff of approximately 6,300 people in more than 110 countries.[2]

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 for Refugees from 1922.

Goodwill ambassadors

UNHCR is also represented by a number of UNHCR Goodwill Ambassadors, who at present are Barbara Hendricks, Adel Imam, Angelina Jolie, Giorgio Armani, Boris Trajanov, Julien Clerc, George Dalaras, Osvaldo Laport, Khaled Hosseini and Muazzez Ersoy.[3] Previous ambassadors include Richard Burton, Nazia Hassan, James Mason and Sophia Loren.

See also


  • Gil Loescher, Alexander Betts and James Milner. UNHCR: The Politics and Practice of Refugee Protection into the Twenty-First Century, Routledge. 2008.
  • 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


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