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What We Do

Emergency Relief Efforts

When violence erupts or war breaks out, life can change in a matter of minutes—shattering families and communities and driving millions to flee. During refugee crises, UNHCR rushes in humanitarian aid and its expert staff, leading efforts to save lives and relieve suffering.


Photo Credit:  © UNHCR / Sebastian Rich

Rapid Response

In an emergency, UNHCR sends relief supplies and deploys its highly trained staff anywhere in the world, at any given time. Often, UNHCR is managing multiple emergencies at the same time.

Because of the commitment of dedicated donors, UNHCR is able to deploy within 72 hours of a large-scale emergency, and jumpstart relief and protection assistance. UNHCR staff is trained to work under intense pressure and in incredibly challenging conditions.

Together with our partners, USA for UNHCR helps ensure refugees have what they need to survive – shelter, medical care, food, water, and special protection and care for vulnerable children and women, including prevention and response to sexual violence.

Survival Needs

With little notice and no idea if or when they’ll be able to return, families flee with few belongings. They often find refuge in harsh and unforgiving conditions. Their needs are immense, but with your help, UNHCR is able to provide refugee families with essential lifesaving aid, whether they are uprooted for weeks, months or years.

They provide refugees with shelter. This can mean setting up tented camps for tens of thousands of people, supplying materials for housing, or providing cash assistance to refugees living in apartments or abandoned buildings in towns and cities.

They also supply the basics – like blankets to keep refugees warm, sleeping mats to keep them dry, and other supplies like clothing, shoes, soap, kitchen sets, heaters, solar lamps and mosquito nets, and the list goes on.

“In Kurdistan, where I am based, we have several refugee camps as well as camps for displaced people. Displaced Iraki people arrive on a daily basis. It is a lot of stress, people need everything, they are traumatized. In my job, I can’t bring back their former lives, but I can try to make sure we provide them with shelters, health care, security.”

-Hassan, Program Associate, UNHCR Kurdistan

Health and Nutrition

Diseases from dirty water and poor sanitation spread like wild fire in the congested conditions in which many refugees live. And when people don’t have proper nutrition, especially children, they succumb even more quickly to preventable and treatable diseases.

That’s why UNHCR puts a priority on the swift launch of programs that keep children, women and men healthy in refugee settings.

UNHCR works closely with partner organizations—supporting their vital work to supply clean water and nutritious food, set up sanitation programs and ensure refugees have access to emergency and basic health care services. For example, UNHCR works with partners to carry out large-scale vaccination campaigns to protect refugees from diseases like polio and measles.

A Safety Net

Crises, whether man-made or natural, cause immense suffering and uncertainty, not only because victims lose loved ones, homes, and livelihoods, but because their safety net also disappears.

Governments normally guarantee the security and human rights of their citizens, but they are often unable to do so, and sometimes they become violators. The tragic result is that displaced civilians are extremely vulnerable to targeted violence, sexual assault, exploitation, persecution and other human rights abuses.

The protection of millions of refugees and displaced persons is the core mandate of UNHCR. Both before and after emergencies, they work to ensure refugees' rights are respected and that refugees are not forced to return to countries where they are in danger. UNHCR offers legal and protection assistance to minimize threats of violence, including sexual assault, a risk even in countries of asylum. 

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