The work of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is humanitarian and non-political. Its principal functions are to provide international protection to refugees and other persons of concern, including stateless people, and to seek durable solutions for them. Protection includes preventing refoulement (the involuntary return of a refugee or a person of concern to a country where he or she may have a well-founded fear of persecution) and ensuring that host countries follow international norms in the treatment of refugees.
UNHCR helps refugees who wish to go home to do so once circumstances permit, assisting them to reintegrate into their home communities. Where this is not feasible, UNHCR seeks other solutions, whether in the countries where they have already found asylum or in third countries. Emergency and other material assistance is provided in collaboration with governmental, inter-governmental and non-governmental partners in the form of food, shelter, medical aid, education and other social services.
While its mandate specifically covers refugees, UNHCR has also frequently been asked by the UN Secretary-General to protect and assist internally displaced persons (IDPs) in conflict-generated emergencies. A comprehensive inter-agency agreement in 2005 reinforced and made more explicit the role of the UN and other humanitarian agencies involved in helping IDPs. Under this mechanism, UNHCR has assumed leadership for the protection, emergency shelter, and camp coordination and management aspects of conflict-related, internal displacement situations.
The Office emerged in the wake of World War II to help Europeans displaced by the conflict. In 1949, the UN General Assembly decided to appoint a High Commissioner for Refugees (GA res. 319 (IV) (1949). The Statute of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, detailing its functions and responsibilities, was embodied in GA res. 428 (V) (1950), and the Office came into being on 1 January 1951.
The Office was initially given a three-year mandate to complete its work and then disband. Following regular five-year extensions, in 2003 the General Assembly removed the time limitation on the organisation's mandate "until the refugee problem is solved" (GA res. 58/153).
UNHCR's governing body, the Executive Committee of the Programme of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (ExCom), determines the general policies under which the Office plans, develops and administers refugee projects and programmes around the world, and advises the High Commissioner, on request, on the discharge of his or her duties under the Statute of the Office.
With wide geographical representation, ExCom is made up of states and others that have demonstrated interest in, and devotion to, solving refugee problems. New members requesting admission may be admitted by the UN's Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) upon approval by the General Assembly to enlarge the Executive Committee's membership. As of May 2011, the Executive Committee is composed of the following 85 members:
Algeria Argentina Australia Austria Bangladesh Belgium Benin Brazil Bulgaria Cameroon Canada Chile China Colombia Congo Costa Rica Cote d'Ivoire Croatia Cyprus DR Congo Denmark Djibouti Ecuador Egypt Estonia Ethiopia Finland France Germany Ghana Greece Hoy See Hungary India Ireland Israel Itlay Japan Jordan Kenya Lebanon Lesotho Luxembourg Madagascar Mexico Montenegro Morocco Mozambique Namibia Netherlands New Zealand Nicaragua Nigeria Norway Pakistan Phillipines Poland Portugal ROK Republic of Moldova Romania Russian Federation Serbia Somalia South Africa Spain Sudan Sweden Switzerland Thailand The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia Togo Tunisia turkey Turkmenistan Uganda UK UR of Tanzania USA Venezuela Yemen Zambia
ExCom holds an annual plenary session in Geneva, Switzerland, usually in October to discuss programmes, budgets and other key issues, and approves the use of funds to carry out its activities. The Executive Committee's subsidiary body, the Standing Committee, meets three times each year to carry on its work between plenary sessions.
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