UNHCR - United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

Every year, millions of people are forced to flee their homes because of armed conflict or a food crisis. Leaving behind all they possess, most of these people take refuge in neighbouring countries, which shoulder most of the additional burden of these new arrivals. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is responsible for ensuring international protection for refugees. Switzerland supports the UNHCR's mandate, focusing especially on protection for civilians in armed conflicts.

Portrait of the organisation

The UNHCR is responsible for ensuring international protection for refu gees and works to provide solutions to the problems they face. It carries out its work in accordance with its statute and is guided by the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol. International refugee law constitutes the basic regulatory framework of the UNHCR's activities.

The Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme and the United Nations General Assembly have authorised the UNHCR to intervene on behalf of other groups in addition to refugees. These groups include stateless persons, persons whose nationality is disputed, and in some cases persons displaced inside their own country.

The UNHCR works closely with governments, with regional and international organisations, and with NGOs. The participation of refugees in the decisions that affect their lives is an essential principle of UNHCR work.


The UNHCR carries out a wide range of protection activities that in particular help define legal norms at the national and international levels, promote gender equality and the protection of women and girls, ensure that protection guarantees are integrated into regional strategies regarding various types of migrants (mixed migration movements), and enable refugee status to be determined. Finding long-term solutions – refugees returning voluntarily and in dignity and safety; local integration; resettlement in another country – lies at the heart of the UNHCR's work and responsibilities.

Results: Support for victims of sexual and gender-based violence

The assistance provided by the UNHCR to victims of sexual and gender-based violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo rose considerably. There was a significant rise in the number of cases registered, which meant an increase in the number of aid beneficiaries. This improvement was made possible by the close collaboration between the UNHCR and its partners with military authorities and local police, as well as with community leaders. The UNHCR was thus able to extend protection to include persons repatriated. Youth networks and women's associations have worked in synergy to fight sexual and gender-based violence. The UNHCR has also provided its partners and groups from civil society with training in the legal measures to be taken to support victims of this type of violence.

Switzerland's commitment

Priorities of Switzerland

Since the institution was set up, Switzerland has provided three of its high commissioners. Switzerland has been represented on the Executive Committee since its inception in 1958. The Executive Committee supports the High Commissioner in their functions, approves the programmes they submit and audits the finances and administration of the UNHCR. In its collaboration with the UNHCR, Switzerland pursues five priority objectives:

  • Promoting respect for the Refugee Convention and its additional protocols
  • Increasing the capacity of host countries in terms of asylum and protection
  • Responding to the needs of women, children and vulnerable persons
  • Ensuring services of protection for people, systematically taking aspects of age, gender and diversity into account
  • Promoting respect for international norms surrounding the protection of internally displaced persons
  • Responding to emergency situations quickly and efficiently

In addition to its basic financial contributions, the SDC also makes targeted contributions, which enable it to finance UNHCR programmes that tie in with Switzerland's humanitarian priorities. In this way, the UNHCR's activities in the area of protection for civilians in armed conflicts receive considerable support from the SDC.

Results: Swiss expertise at the disposal of the UNHCR

The SDC makes experts from the Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit (SHA) available to the UNHCR. The UNHCR benefited from the services of SHA specialists in a variety of sectors, including water and sanitation, law and the construction of shelters. In 2015, 24 SHA experts carried out missions for the UNHCR in 14 countries in Africa, Asia, South America and the Middle East.


The activities of the UNHCR reflect the dramatic situations facing millions of people, most of whom are living in neighbouring countries that have taken them in and which are shouldering most of the burden of supporting them.

The UNHCR estimates that almost 61.4 million people – refugees, stateless persons, persons displaced internally by conflicts or wishing to return home – will require its protection and assistance in 2016.

International Cooperation: A profession

40 short films portray UN employees in Geneva. Beneath the films, the favored language of subtitles (de, fr, en, it) can be selected.