The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was created in 1950, during the aftermath of the Second World War, to help millions of Europeans who had fled or lost their homes. We had three years to complete our work and then disband. Today, over 70 years later, our organization is still hard at work, protecting and assisting refugees around the world.
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is a global organization dedicated to saving lives, protecting rights and building a better future for refugees, other forcibly displaced communities and stateless people.
We work in over 130 countries, protecting millions of people and delivering life-saving assistance. We help safeguard fundamental human rights and develop solutions that ensure that people have a safe place to call home where they can build a better future.
In 1954, UNHCR won the Nobel Peace Prize for its groundbreaking work in Europe. But it was not long before we faced our next major emergency.
In 1956, during the Hungarian Revolution, 200,000 fled to neighbouring Austria. Recognizing the Hungarians as ‘prima facie’ refugees, UNHCR led efforts to resettle them. This uprising and its aftermath shaped the way humanitarian organizations would deal with refugee crises in the future.
During the 1960s, the decolonization of Africa produced the first of that continent’s numerous refugee crises. We also helped uprooted people in Asia and Latin America over the following two decades. In 1981, we received a second Nobel Peace Prize for what had become worldwide assistance to refugees.
The start of the 21st century has seen UNHCR help with major refugee crises in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. We have also been asked to use our expertise to help many internally displaced by conflict and expanded our role in helping stateless people. In some parts of the world, such as Africa and Latin America, the 1951 Refugee Convention has been strengthened by additional regional legal instruments.
UNHCR now has more than 17,878 personnel working in 132 countries. Our budget, which in its first year was US$300,000, grew to US$8.6 billion in 2019.
In 2020, we marked our 70th anniversary. During our lifetime, we have helped well over 50 million refugees to successfully restart their lives.
Want more UNHCR history? Subscribe and listen to Forced to Flee, a groundbreaking new podcast that sheds light on 70 years of stories from those forced to flee their homes. This is not history from a textbook. These are personal stories of persecution, survival and new beginnings.