Source description last updated: 27 October 2020

In brief: The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is a United Nations agency with the mandate to protect and support refugees and assist in their voluntary repatriation, local integration, or resettlement to a third country.

Coverage on

Selected reports, guidelines/positions, and press releases, as well as national laws published on Refworld.

Covered daily on, for countries of priorities A-E.


“UNHCR is mandated by the United Nations to lead and coordinate international action for the worldwide protection of refugees and the resolution of refugee problems. UNHCR’s primary purpose is to safeguard the rights and well-being of refugees. In its efforts to achieve this objective, UNHCR strives to ensure that everyone can exercise the right to seek asylum and find safe refuge in another State, and to return home voluntarily.” UNHCR seeks to offer “protection and assistance to refugees and others on the basis of their needs and irrespective of their race, religion, political opinion or gender” (UNHCR: Mission Statement, 2013)

“The 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol are the key legal documents that forms the basis of our work. With 149 States parties to either or both, they define the term ‘refugee’ and outline the rights of the displaced, as well as the legal obligations of States to protect them.” (UNHCR: The 1951 Refugee Convention, undated)

According to Article 35 of the 1951 Refugee Convention, “The Contracting States undertake to co-operate with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees […]” and according to Article 36 “shall communicate to the Secretary-General of the United Nations the laws and regulations which they may adopt to ensure the application of this Convention” (UNHCR: Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, 1966, p. 31)

While “the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was established in 1950 with a core mandate to protect ‘refugees’”, today, with its scope of activities broadened, people of concern to UNHCR also include asylum-seekers, internally displaced persons (IDPs), returnees, stateless persons and others. (UNHCR: Protecting Refugees & the Role of UNHCR, 2012, p. 3)

“As of 31 May 2020, we employ 17,324 people, of whom around nearly 90 per cent are based in the field. We work in 135 countries [...] Our teams work hard to help the displaced, specializing in a wide range of disciplines including legal protection, administration, community services, public affairs and health.” (UNHCR: Figures at a glance, undated)


“We are funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions, with 86 per cent from governments and the European Union. Three per cent comes from other inter-governmental organizations and pooled funding mechanisms, while a further 10 per cent is from the private sector, including foundations, corporations and the public. Additionally, we receive a limited subsidy (one per cent) from the UN budget for administrative costs, and accept in-kind contributions, including items such as tents, medicines and trucks.” (UNHCR: Figures at a glance, undated)

In 2019, the top three donors were the United States of America with USD 1,706,832,053, the European Union with USD 473,024,447 and Germany with USD 390,479,234. (UNHCR: Donors, undated)

“Our yearly budget supports continuing operations and supplementary programmes to cover emergencies, such as the Syria crisis or large-scale repatriation operations.” (UNHCR: Figures at a glance, undated)

Scope of reporting:

Geographic focus: All countries.

Thematic focus: “UNHCR’s primary mandate is to ensure that refugees have access to international protection in countries of asylum. UNHCR ( does not have a mandate to monitor and report on human rights violations in countries of origin. However, the provision of accurate and reliable Country of Origin Information to decision-makers, both in state-run asylum determination procedures and in UNHCR refugee status determination procedures, is part of UNHCR’s efforts to ensure that bona fide refugees are recognised as such through high-quality decision-making.” (Austrian Red Cross/ACCORD: Researching Country of Origin Information: Training Manual, 2013, p. 233)


“UNHCR country reports are based on publicly available and referenced information. Reports undergo a strict clearing procedure with multiple readings by staff with diverse areas of expertise. Diplomatic considerations and concern for the security of UNHCR staff may play a role in selection of countries publicly reported on.

UNHCR also publishes position papers on major countries of origin. Where necessary, it responds to individual queries from governments and lawyers as to the need for protection of particular groups. [...] Eligibility guidelines are produced for use by UNHCR eligibility officers.” (Austrian Red Cross/ACCORD: Researching Country of Origin Information: A Training Manual, 2004 (updated April 2006), Annex, p. 23)

Collection of standards on country research on UNHCR’s database Refworld:

Language(s) of publications:

English. Some papers are published in (or translated to) French, Spanish or German.

Further reading / links:

UN General Assembly: Statute of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, General Assembly Resolution 428 (V), 14 December 1950

Text of and background on the 1951 Refugee Convention:

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

UNHCR: About Us, undated

Cecilie Schjatvet, Hestenes og Dramer & Co.: The making of UNHCR’s guidance and its implementation in the national jurisdiction of the United Kingdom, Norway and Sweden - Research report for the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration, 2010

UNHCR: Financials, undated


All links accessed 27 October 2020.