During World War II masses of people were forced to flee their homes. Shortly after the war was over the United Nations was formed and it was established that the countries of the world must take joint responsibility for people fleeing from persecution. It was therefore decided that no person should be forced to return to their country of origin if they had justifiable fears of being persecuted upon return. The United Nations consequently set up UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, or the UN Refugee Agency) to lead their efforts to provide protection for refugees. 7700 people in 126 countries currently work for UNHCR.

UNHCR's Mission

UNHCR’s primary purpose is to safeguard the rights and wellbeing of millions of refugees and asylum seekers. Based on international refugee law and the 1951 convention on refugees’ rights, UNHCR is mandated to lead and coordinate efforts to protect refugees and solve refugee problems across the world. In 2011 a total of 147 countries had signed the UN’s refugee convention in 1951. UNHCR supports member states to achieve their international obligations and spread knowledge about the international rights of refugees and their application. Common to all UNHCR’s work is the mission to defend refugees’ rights and wellbeing, right to asylum and to find a safe refuge.

UNHCR in the Field

War, conflict, and the violation of human rights lead to large refugee crises across the world. When faced with a sudden emergency UNHCR is able to be on location with life-saving emergency assistance in the form of shelter, clean water, food, sanitation, and health care on short notice. Many refugee crises last for decades. This requires long-term assistance, such as schooling and vocational training. UNHCR takes into consideration especially vulnerable groups such as women, children and disabled.

Who can UNHCR help?

UNHCR leads and coordinates international efforts to help refugees covered by the UN’s refugee definition. UNHCR also treats civilians who flee civil war or ethnic and religious violence as refugees, and whose governments are unable or unwilling to provide them protection. UNHCR has also been given a leading role in the efforts to coordinate and manage the protection of internally displaced people across the world. Furthermore, UNHCR has been commissioned with the task of assisting stateless people across the world who are being denied basic rights due to the fact they lack citizenship. In all of its activities UNHCR seeks to pay particular attention to age, gender and diversity, aiming to take into consideration each perspective. Of all those helped by UNHCR almost half are children.

How does UNHCR help refugees?

UNHCR supports governments with advice, education, and information to ensure the protection of refugees. The UN’s refugee agency is also made up of volunteer organisations and lawyers working with asylum seekers’ and refugees’ rights, and the agency also develops specific guidelines for dealing with different issues. In the case of large refugee crises UNHCR leads and coordinates humanitarian aid. Furthermore, UNHCR helps refugees to find suitable long-term solutions: to voluntarily return to their country of origin if and when possible, to become integrated in the country where the refugee has been given asylum, or to find future residence in a third country.

In the “Hello Sweden” campaign, UNHCR has contributed with its expertise in the area of refugee-related topics and parts of the material are based on the UNHCR report Voices of Afghan Children. 

Read more about the report, Voices of Afghan Children


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