The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was established on 14 December 1950 by United Nations General Assembly resolution 428(V). The agency is mandated to lead and co-ordinate international action to protect refugees and resolve refugee problems world-wide. Its primary purpose is to safeguard the rights and well-being of refugees. It strives to ensure that everyone can exercise the right to seek asylum and to find safe refuge in another State, with the option to return home voluntarily, integrate locally or to resettle in a third country.

The 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees is the key legal document that defines who is a refugee, their rights and the legal obligations of States. The 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees removed geographical and temporal restrictions from the Convention.

Accordingly, the term “refugees” applies to any person who:

“Owing to well-founded fear of being presecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”

More information on the Convention is available in the 1951 Convention Q&A.

In 2011, UNHCR marked the 60th anniversary of the 1951 Convention, which has been instrumental in helping an estimated 50 million people restart their lives.

There are currently 145 Contracting States to the 1951 Convention and 146 Contracting States to the 1967 Protocol.