The United Nations Refugee Agency – formally called UNHCR for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees – was created and mandated in 1959 by the General Assembly to lead and facilitate international cooperative efforts to protect refugees and resolve refugee problems all around the world. UNHCR’s main responsibility is to ensure that everyone can exercise their rights to seek asylum and to find safe refuge in another state with the option to either return home voluntarily, integrate locally, or be able to resettle or relocate to a different state altogether.
This committee is also mandated to help stateless individuals find permanent asylum without the risk of persecution based on ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation. UNHCR’s mandate has gradually been expanded to include protecting and providing humanitarian assistance to whom it describes as other persons “of concern,” including internally displaced persons (IDPs) who would fit the legal definition of a refugee under the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and 1967 Protocol, the 1969 Organization for African Unity Convention, or some other treaty if they left their country, but who presently remain in their country of origin. UNHCR presently has major missions in Lebanon, South Sudan, Chad/Darfur, Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Afghanistan as well as Kenya to assist and provide services to IDPs and refugees.
Within the last six decades, this Committee has relocated and resettled tens of millions of refugees without discrimination and with the ultimate goal of making sure that everyone has a place they can call home. Today, this Committee has over 7,000 personnel operating in more than 125 countries around the world, assisting over 40 million refugees find means of living safely and healthily until they can find a permanent home.
The ultimate goal of UNHCR is to help find permanent solutions that allow refugees to rebuild their lives in peace, including, but not limited to voluntary repatriation, local integration or resettlement in another country. Even though UNHCR has already been assisting millions around the world every year, for several other millions, durable solutions are not accessible and many refugees remain in limbo until they can return to their home countries or resettle in another country.
For millions of refugees around the world, going home remains the strongest hope of finding an end to exile. In order to allow the migration of refugees back to their country of origin, UNHCR needs the continuous support of source countries to reintegrate their own people after conflict has ended. It must also have the support of the international community in the post-conflict phase to ensure that those who choose to go home can rebuild their lives with stability and security. Priorities for refugees choosing to return are promoting enabling conditions for voluntary repatriation, such as housing and property reinstitution, and providing return assistance and legal aid to returnees.
Another problem UNHCR faces is helping refugees relocate to a nation other than their nation of origin and the nation they live in as a refugee. Out of the10 million plus refugees in this category, only about 1 percent are considered for resettlement. One factor contributing to this number is the fact that only a handful of countries participate in the resettlement program. While many nations choose to donate money, UNHCR needs more participation and support from all nations in order to help refugees choose what path they want to follow in their lives and ensure that whatever path they choose provides them safety and the ability to exercise their rights.
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