The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)

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

Portrait of the organisation

The UNHCR's mandate is to protect refugees worldwide and to find sustainable solutions to their plight. It carries out its work in accordance with its statute and is guided by the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (1951 Refugee Convention) 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. Involving refugees in the decisions that affect their lives is an essential principle of the UNHCR's work.


The UNHCR carries out a wide range of protection activities that in particular help define legal norms at 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 flows), 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: a plan to support host countries and to promote refugees' well-being

The UNHCR does its utmost to provide refugees, stateless persons, displaced persons, and persons wishing to return home with the protection and assistance they need. It provides a forum in which states can tackle these challenges together and supports states' implementation efforts. Yet this also requires enough political will from member states. In 2019, the UNHCR and the UN's member states developed the Global Compact for Refugees. This compact provides a plan for the collective work of governments, international organisations and other relevant actors to ensure that host communities receive the support they need and that refugees can lead productive lives.

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 the following 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
  • Supporting – through the Geneva Technical Hub – the UNHCR in developing innovative solutions to complex problems closely related the environmental issues
  • Responding to emergency situations quickly and efficiently

In addition to its basic financial contributions (CHF 125 million for 2019–22), 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

In June 2021, the SDC and the UNHCR jointly established the Geneva Technical Hub. This hub supports UNHCR field offices in finding solutions to problems – in housing, energy, water supply and hygiene – faced by forcibly displaced persons in refugee camps. The hub's mandate also includes developing technical tools to reduce the environmental impact of humanitarian operations.

In addition, the SDC provides experts from the Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit (SHA) 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 2021, 13 SHA experts carried out missions for the UNHCR 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 the number of people forced to flee their homes will reach 100 million in the coming years. 

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.