United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees


Flag of UNHCRThe Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees was established on 14 December 1950 by the United Nations General Assembly. 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 efforts are mandated by the organization’s Statute, and guided by the 1951 United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol. International refugee law provides an essential framework of principles for UNHCR’s humanitarian activities. UNHCR’s Executive Committee and the UN General Assembly have also authorized the organization’s involvement with other groups. These include people who are stateless or whose nationality is disputed and, in certain circumstances, internally displaced persons.


Child and UNHCR bannerUNHCR seeks to reduce situations of forced displacement by encouraging states and other institutions to create conditions which are conducive to the protection of human rights and the peaceful resolution of disputes. In pursuit of the same objective, UNHCR actively seeks to consolidate the reintegration of returning refugees in their country of origin, thereby averting the recurrence of refugee-producing situations.


UNHCR offers protection and assistance to refugees and others in an impartial manner, on the basis of their need and irrespective of their race, religion, political opinion or gender. In all of its activities, UNHCR pays particular attention to the needs of children and seeks to promote the equal rights of women and girls.


In its efforts to protect refugees and to promote solutions to their problems, UNHCR works in partnership with governments, regional organizations, international and non-governmental organizations.


UNHCR Ruud Lubbers and refugeesUNHCR is committed to the principle of participation by consulting refugees on decisions that affect their lives.


By virtue of its activities on behalf of refugees and displaced people, UNHCR also promotes the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter: maintaining international peace and security; developing friendly relations among nations; and encouraging respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.


In more than five decades, the agency has helped an estimated 50 million people restart their lives. Today, a staff of around 6,540 people in 116 countries continues to help 19.2 million persons.


The office of High Commissioner has been held by ten people from seven countries:

1951-1956:    Gerrit Jan van Heuven Goedhart (Netherlands)

1956-1960:    Auguste R. Lindt (Switzerland)

1960-1965:    Félix Schnyder (Switzerland)

1965-1977:    Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan (Iran)

1978-1985:    Poul Hartling (Denmark)

1986-1989:    Jean-Pierre Hocké (Switzerland)

1990-1990:    Thorvald Stoltenberg (Norway)

1990-2000:    Sadako Ogata (Japan)

2001-2005:    Ruud Lubbers (Netherlands) (photo: UNHCR/D. Marie)

Angelina Jolie and refugeesfrom 2005:   António Guterres (Portugal)


UNHCR awards the Nansen Refugee Award (formerly the Nansen Medal) to a person or group for outstanding services in supporting refugee causes. Furthermore 20 June is celebrated as World Refugee Day. These and many more activities are supported by the UNHCR Goodwill Ambassadors, including American actress Angelina Jolie (photo: UNHCR/T. Makeeva), French singer Julien Clerc and Italian designer Giorgio Armani.





The official website of UNHCR.

Flag of UNHCR in Flags of the World.

UNHCR in Wikipedia.



Related persons - winners of the Nansen Medal / Nansen Refugee Award


1954             Roosevelt, Eleanor

1955             Juliana, queen of the Netherlands

1959             Helmer, Oskar

1967             Bernhard, prince of the Netherlands



Related subjects


UNHCR 50th anniversary


World Refugee Year

European Refugee Campaign



Stamp catalogue - general issues


Belgium                                              17 April 1958

Belgium                                              25 April 1970



Stamp catalogue - 20th anniversary


Sovereign Military Order of Malta          11 October 1971









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last revised: 27 June 2009