The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR)

Protection and assistance for 34.5 million people around the world

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) provides protection, shelter, emergency food, water, medical care and other life-saving assistance to 34.5 million people worldwide, who have been forced to flee their homes due to war and persecution. 

When possible, UNHCR helps refugees and other displaced people return to their homes voluntarily, safely, and with dignity.  When return is not possible, the agency assists with local integration, or resettlement to a third country.

Since its formation by the United Nations General Assembly on December 14, 1950, UNHCR has helped an estimated 50 million refugees restart their lives. 

With a staff of more than 6,000 people, the agency is the lead humanitarian organization on the scene in 126 countries around the world.

What is UN Refugee Agency’s mandate?


The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) was created by the United Nations General Assembly in 1950, initially helping more than one million European refugees after World War II.

Governments normally guarantee the basic human rights of their citizens. But when civilians become refugees, this safety net disappears.

UNHCR is the UN agency responsible for the safety and well-being of refugees and others of concern worldwide.

UNHCR’s most important responsibility is to ensure respect for the basic human rights of refugees, ensuring that no one is returned involuntarily to a country where he or she has reason to fear persecution.

UNHCR provides lifesaving assistance to those forced to flee their homes, such as shelter, medical care, food, clean water and education.

UNHCR also helps refugees find lasting solutions. Voluntary repatriation, or return to their original homes, is what most refugees hope for. But this is not always possible, and in those cases UNHCR helps people rebuild their lives elsewhere—either in the countries where they first sought asylum or in a third country willing to accept them for resettlement.

Where does the UN Refugee Agency work?

In 2012, the UNHCR is providing assistance in 126 countries. Syria, Mali, South SudanIraq, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, Chad, Darfur, Colombia, Somalia, Afghanistan, Liberia, and Uganda are among the most pressing refugee situations where UNHCR operates.


Who does UNHCR help?

Today, UNHCR cares for a record 34.5 million people, most of whom are women and children. People of concern to UNHCR include not only refugees, but also other groups such as asylum seekers, refugees returning home, stateless people and some, but not all, of the estimated 26 million people who are displaced due to armed conflict within their own countries, often known as internally displaced persons (IDPs).

Here are but a few of their stories:

Read and watch more refugee stories.

What is the 1951 Refugee Convention? 

The 1951 Geneva Convention is the main international instrument of refugee law.

The Convention clearly spells out who a refugee is and the kind of legal protection, other assistance and social rights he or she should receive from the countries who have signed the document. The Convention also defines a refugee’s obligations to host governments and certain categories or people, such as war criminals, who do not qualify for refugee status. The Convention was limited to protecting mainly European refugees in the aftermath of World War II, but another document, the 1967 Protocol, expanded the scope of the Convention as the problem of displacement spread around the world.


Learn more about the UN Refugee Agency and the 34.5 million people it helps:
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