Grade Level: 
6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12
USA for UNHCR is concerned with the global refugee crisis. The mission of the organization is to spread awareness about the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency) and help raise funds for its life-saving work. The UN Refugee Agency assists more than 26 million refugees and internally displaced people around the world who have been forced from their homes by violence, war and persecution.


USA for UNHCR was founded in 1989 by a group of Americans concerned about the global refugee crisis. The mission of the organization is to spread awareness about the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency) and help raise funds for its life-saving work. The UN Refugee Agency assists more than 26 million refugees and internally displaced people around the world who have been forced from their homes by violence, war and persecution.
Historic Roots
The UN Refugee Agency was founded on December 14th, 1950 by the United Nations General Assembly to help the more than one million people still displaced in the wake of World War II. In 1951, the United Nations adopted the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, creating the legal foundation for helping refugees and laying out UNHCR’s mandate.
Initially, the UN Refugee Agency was created as a temporary agency. However, in 1956, the Agency faced its first major emergency with the outpouring of refugees fleeing the Soviet crackdown of the Hungarian revolution. The need for the Agency has never been questioned since; although it did not gain permanent status from the United Nations until 2005.
In the intervening decades, the UN Refugee Agency has helped more than 50 million people restart their lives—nearly the combined populations of California and Florida. In 1954 and again in 1981 the Agency received the Nobel Peace Prize for its work assisting refugees and helping them to restart their lives.
Today, the UN Refugee Agency works in more than 120 countries, striving to open the doors to a better future for more than 26 million refugees.
Importance to the Civil Society Sector
When people are forced to flee their homes they often must leave everything behind, arriving in camps or registration centers with little more than the clothes on their backs. Without money, supplies, or even a shred of documentation to prove who they are or where they are from they find themselves in a position of severe vulnerability. In many cases they are stripped of their rights, arbitrarily detained, or forced back into a situation where their lives are in danger. They frequently face abuse from soldiers, rebel groups and even legitimate authority figures.
The UN Refugee Agency exists to protect refugees. According to the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, all refugees are guaranteed specific rights by the international community. The UN Refugee Agency is the guardian of those rights, providing refugees with identification, as well as shelter, food, water, medical care, psycho-social care, education, and job skills. Most important, the Agency looks for permanent solutions to refugees’ plight, whether helping them return home in safety to a secure environment—the most preferable solution—or helping them integrate into their country of first asylum or a new third country.
Important People Related to the Topic
High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres: António Guterres became the 10th UN High Commissioner for Refugees on June 15, 2005. A Portuguese prime minister from 1995 to 2002, Guterres was elected by the UN General Assembly to a five-year term. In April 2010, the General Assembly re-elected Guterres to a second five-year term.
Before joining UNHCR, Guterres spent more than 20 years in government and public service. As prime minister of Portugal, he was heavily involved in the international effort to resolve the crisis in East Timor and while serving as European Council in early 2000, he led the adoption of the so-called Lisbon Agenda and co-chaired the first European Union-Africa summit. He also founded the Portuguese Refugee Council in 1991 and was part of the Council of State of Portugal from 1991 to 2002.
From 1981 to 1983, Guterres was a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, as well as chairman of the Committee on Demography, Migration and Refugees. In addition, he has been active in Socialist International, a worldwide organization of social democratic political parties. He was the group's vice-president from 1992 to 1999 and president from 1999 until mid-2005.
Guterres was born on April 30, 1949, in Lisbon and was educated at the Instituto Superior Técnico, where he remains a visiting professor.
He is married and has two children. (taken from:
UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie: Angelina Jolie is an Oscar Award winning American actress renowned around the world. In 2001, she became one of UNHCR’s Goodwill Ambassadors after seeing the plight of refugees firsthand during her time filming the first Tomb Raider movie in Cambodia. She has been dedicated to the refugee cause ever since. As Goodwill Ambassador, Jolie has traveled with UNHCR to refugee situations around the world, from Afghanistan to Ecuador to Kenya. 
Jolie has used her position in the public eye to help bring much needed attention to this cause. She has spoken on the topic many times, including at several World Refugee Day celebrations in Washington D.C., moving the crowd to tears relaying the heartbreaking situations she has witnessed and the life lessons she has learned from the inspirational refugees she has met along the way.
USA for UNHCR Goodwill Envoy Khaled Hosseini: Khaled Hosseini is the bestselling author of two novels about Afghanistan: The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns. Born in Afghanistan in 1965, the son of a diplomat in the Afghan Foreign Ministry, Khaled and his family were moved to Paris in 1976 by the Foreign Ministry. The family tried to return to Afghanistan in 1980, but the Soviet Army had already invaded and there had been much bloodshed.  Instead, the family sought and received political asylum in the United States. The family moved to California and Khaled eventually became a practicing physician.
Hosseini became the US Goodwill Envoy in 2006 and soon after traveled back to his native Afghanistan with UNHCR for the first time since his childhood. He has helped raise awareness in the United States about the plight of refugees in Afghanistan and around the world. He started his own foundation in 2007 to support UNHCR’s work building shelters for refugees returning to Afghanistan.
Related Nonprofit Organizations/Websites
  • Refugee Council USA
  • USA for UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency
  • The Blue Key Campaign
  • United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
Bibliography and Internet Sources
  • USA for UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency
  • High Commissioner Antonio Guterres:
  • Angelina Jolie:
  • Khaled Hosseini: