Protecting Refugees

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In December 1950, the United Nations General Assembly created the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees, giving it the core mandate of protecting refugees fleeing persecution or seeking solutions to their displacement. 


The 1951 Refugee Convention spells out that a refugee is someone who "owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted 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 to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country."


Since then, UNHCR has offered protection and assistance to tens of millions of refugees, finding durable solutions for many of them. Global migration patterns have become increasingly complex in modern times, involving not just refugees, but also millions of economic migrants. But refugees and migrants, even if they often travel in the same way, are fundamentally different, and for that reason are treated very differently under modern international law.


Migrants, especially economic migrants, choose to move in order to improve the future prospects of themselves and their families. Refugees have to move if they are to save their lives or preserve their freedom. They have no protection from their own state - indeed it is often their own government that is threatening to persecute them. If other countries do not let them in, and do not help them once they are in, then they may be condemning them to death - or to an intolerable life in the shadows, without sustenance and without rights.

UNHCR's ultimate goal is to help find durable solutions that will allow refugees to rebuild their lives in dignity and peace. There are three solutions open to refugees where UNHCR can help: voluntary repatriation; local integration; or resettlement to a third country in situations where it is impossible for a person to go back home or remain in the host country.

Asylum systems in the region - Pacific Island Countries
UNHCR is involved in capacity building activities, and promoting refugee law and principles in the Pacific region. UNHCR also has a default mandate responsibility to provide protection and assistance in areas where state asylum systems have not yet developed independent capacity.   Of the ....
Asylum systems in the region - Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea is a signatory to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol (acceded 17 July 1986).   The 1978 Migration Act (as amended in 1989) permits the Minister to “determine a non-citizen to be a refugee”; however, there is no ....
Asylum systems in the region - Australia
Australia is a Contracting State to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of refugees and its 1967 Protocol, and was in fact the six State Party to ratify the Convention, bringing it into force on 22 January 1954. Australiahas a well-established system for determining refugee ....
Asylum systems in the region - New Zealand
New Zealand is a Contracting State to the 1951 Convention relating to the status of refugees and its 1967 Protocol .     It has a well-established refugee status determination process which is carried out by Immigration New Zealand (INZ).   UNHCR has a ....

UNHCR Regional Office Canberra

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is an impartial, non-political humanitarian organisation mandated by the United Nations to protect refugees and seek ways to help them restart their lives. UNHCR's Regional Office in Canberra covers Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and the Pacific, and is focused on three key areas: legal protection, resettlement and public information.