The UN International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) was established by the General Assembly on 11 December 1946 to provide emergency relief assistance in the form of food, medicine, and clothing to the children of postwar Europe and China. In December 1950, the General Assembly extended the life of the fund for three years, changing its mandate to emphasize health and nutrition programs of long-range benefit to children of developing countries. In October 1953, the General Assembly decided that UNICEF should continue its work as a permanent arm of the UN system, and charged the organization to emphasize programs giving long-term benefit to children everywhere, particularly those in developing countries who are in the greatest need. The organization's name was changed to the UN Children's Fund, but the acronym "UNICEF" was retained. The UNICEF Executive Board reaffirmed its mandate in January 1996, when it adopted a statement on the mission of UNICEF saying that UNICEF "is guided by the Convention on the Rights of the Child and strives to establish children's rights as enduring ethical principles and international standards of behaviour towards children."
In 1959 the General Assembly unanimously adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, affirming the right of children to special protection and opportunities and facilities for healthy, normal development.
Following a global study of the needs of children in 1961, UNICEF increased the scope and flexibility of its approach to children to include projects that promote the role of children as an invaluable "human resource" in national development, thus making it possible to provide aid for education.
UNICEF was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1965. In November 1989, the General Assembly voted to transform the rights and obligations under the 1959 Declaration into the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the most comprehensive treaty ever to address the individual rights of children and set universally accepted standards for their children. The convention entered into force as international law in September 1990. In 2002, UNICEF reported that the convention had been ratified by every country in the world except two (the United States and Somalia), and "therefore uniquely places children center-stage in the quest for the universal application of human rights."
As the only United Nations agency devoted exclusively to the needs of children, UNICEF promotes the full implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child by 1995. UNICEF also participated in the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna in June 1993, speaking out forcefully on behalf of children and against violation of their rights.
UNICEF also participated in the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, Egypt, in September 1994; the World Summit for Social Development in Copenhagen, Denmark, in March 1995; the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China, in Septemer 1995; the Habitat II World Assembly of Cities and Local Authorities in Istanbul, Turkey, in June 1996; and the World Congress against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in Stockholm, Sweden, in August 1996, strongly promoting measures for child survival, protection, and development. UNICEF was one of the host organizations and core participants of Beijing+5, the first follow-up meeting to the watershed Fourth World Conference on Women (1995). Convened in June 2000 in New York City, Beijing+5 (also called Women 2000) was set up to review progress and establish action plans for the next five years. More than 150 countries and thousands of non-governmental organizations participated in programs at UN headquarters. UNICEF focused on four key themes at the event: gender equality starts early; women's rights and girls' rights are independent (laws and structures that protect women also need to be made to protect girls); children's rights cannot be achieved without girls' rights; and community partnerships are needed to end violence and prevent HIV/AIDS. In support of women's issues, UNICEF funded a news web site, http://www.womenswire.org , to publicize areas of concern and advance public understanding of the issues.
Combining humanitarian and development objectives, UNICEF's primary goal is to help children of the poorest and least developed countries. It helps them directly, by supporting government programs to improve child health, nutrition, education, and social services, and indirectly, by serving as child advocate, appealing to governments and to the consciences of individuals worldwide to find and commit the resources required to protect and prepare children adequately.
UNICEF's mandate from the General Assembly's 1946 resolution for "strengthening … the permanent child health and welfare programs of the countries receiving assistance" has been developed and continuously adapted to current conditions. It places strong emphasis on community participation in the development and operation of services for children and has increasingly focused on community-based action. As a funding agency—as distinct from a specialized agency—UNICEF is able to work with various ministries and nongovernmental organizations, maintaining an intersectoral approach to community action in meeting the needs of children.
In 1976, UNICEF adopted an approach to the provision of basic health and welfare services, the key element of which was community participation. This new approach resulted from experiences in economically and politically diverse developing countries showing that services are likely to be not only cheaper but also more effective when community members are involved, because they mobilize hitherto unused abilities within the community and the services can be run at recurrent costs that the country and community can afford. Integration of women into the establishment of community-based services is especially important, since their participation can have a significant impact on the quality of life for their children.
UNICEF gives priority to the establishment of long-term programs and places special emphasis on the use of national expertise wherever feasible.
UNICEF cooperates with developing countries in several ways: it assists in the planning and extension of services benefiting children and in the exchange of experience between countries; it provides funds to strengthen the training and orientation of national personnel, complementing, wherever possible, the work of specialized agencies; and it delivers technical supplies, equipment, and other aid for extending services.
In September 1990, the Convention on the Rights of the Child entered into force, less than one year after its adoption by the General Assembly. That month, UNICEF organized the World Summit for Children, attended by representatives from more than 159 countries, including 71 heads of state or government. It produced a Declaration and a Plan of Action, which recognized the rights of the young to "first call" on nations' resources and set goals for the year 2000, including:
In September 1996, the Secretary-General of the UN reported to the General Assembly that significant progress was made toward the World Summit goals in some 90 countries in the previous 6 years. Over 150 countries had drawn up National Programs of Action (NPAs) to implement the goals.
Recognizing that survival and development of children is intricately linked to the status of women in developing countries, the Executive Board, at its annual meeting in May 1994, requested the executive director to give high priority to UNICEF efforts to develop gender-sensitive indicators in each sectoral area of development and to set gender-specific goals in national programmes of action. UNICEF supports gender equality, organized participation of women at all levels, and capacity-building and mobilization of youth for a more gender-equitable society.
At the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China, in September 1995, UNICEF advocated more attention and resources to girls' education and the linkage between goals for girls and women. It drew attention to the complementary objectives of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
As a result of the Beijing conference, UNICEF identified the following areas of concern or emphasis: women and poverty; education and training of women; women's health, including safe motherhood and reproductive health (including HIV/AIDS); violence against women, including family violence and harmful traditional practices (such as female genital mutilation), sexual abuse, and exploitation and trafficking in women and girls; women and armed conflict; women in power and decision-making; institutional mechanisms for the advancement of women; human rights of women; women and the media; and women and the environment.
In May 2002, the UN General Assembly Special Session on Children was held, the first global gathering of world leaders and children's advocates since the 1990 World Summit. UNICEF was instrumental in furthering children's participation in the event, and throughout the year hosted or supported regional consultations and other events related to the special session. In April 2001, UNICEF had launched the "Say Yes for Children" pledge campaign for voluntary contributions. By May 2002, when the organizers presented their achievements to the special session, nearly 100 million people in 194 countries had joined the grass-roots campaign. Education was a top priority of the campaign.
UNICEF is an integral part of the UN, with semiautonomous status. The Executive Board, which is the governing body of UNICEF, meets once a year to establish policy, review programs, and approve expenditures. It also holds regular sessions between the annual formal meetings. The Executive Board has 36 members, elected for a three-year term with the following regional allocation of seats: eight African states, seven Asian states, four Eastern European states, five Latin American and Caribbean states, and 12 Western European and other states (including Japan). The board year runs from 1 January to 31 December. In 2002, the board members were: Armenia, Australia, China, Colombia, Côte d'Ivoire, Cuba, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ecuador, France, Gabon, Gambia, Germany, Guinea, India, Indonesia, Islamic Republic of Iran, Ireland, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Lesotho, Madagascar, Morocco, Nepal, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Russian Federation, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, Trinidad and Tobago, the United States, and Yemen.
The executive director of UNICEF is appointed by the UN Secretary-General in consultation with the Executive Board. The administration of UNICEF and the appointment and direction of staff are the responsibility of the executive director, under policy directives laid down by the Executive Board, and under a broad authority delegated to the executive director by the Secretary-General. The executive director as of 2002 was Carol Bellamy; she was reappointed to a second term in 1999, and would serve to April 2005.
UNICEF has a network of country and regional offices serving 133 countries and territories. UNICEF maintains headquarters offices in New York, Geneva, Brussels, Tokyo, Florence (site of the Innocenti Research Centre, available at http://www.uniceficdc.org ), Copenhagen, and Huningue (France). Eight regional offices serve Latin America and the Caribbean, Central and Eastern Europe (including Commonwealth of Independent States and Baltic States), East Asia and the Pacific, Eastern and Southern Africa, Middle East and North Africa, South Asia, and West and Central Africa.
In 2001, UNICEF employed a total staff of approximately 6,000 people, 85% of which were in the field.
In 1985, only 27% of international professional posts were filled by women. By 1996, that figure had been raised to 40%. In 2000, UNICEF reported that it endorsed its own policy of gender equality and empowerment of women and girls by mobilizing and organizing women for participation in its programs. The organization paid particular attention to ensuring that women, both in its offices and in the field, were in decision-making roles that would help guide UNICEF's work.
UNICEF is supported by 37 National Committees, mostly in the industrialized countries, whose more than 100,000 volunteer members raise money through various activities, including the sale of greeting cards. The committees also undertake advocacy, education for development, and information activities. About 30% of the organization's 2001 budget was contributed through the National Committees.
In 2002 the National Committees maintained offices in Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, San Marino, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom, and United States.
UNICEF collaborates closely with the specialized agencies, including the International Labour Organization (ILO), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and World Health Organization (WHO), as well as with the units of the UN Secretariat concerned with services benefiting children. It also works with the funding agencies and programs of the UN system—such as United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), World Food Programme (WFP), the World Bank, International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)—to exchange information, discuss policies of cooperation affecting the situation of children, and explore potential program collaboration.
Close working relations are maintained with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in emergency relief and aid to refugees, respectively. UNICEF also works with regional development banks and the regional economic and social commissions and with bilateral aid agencies.
Of particular importance is UNICEF's cooperation and collaboration in programs with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), both national and international. The NGO Committee on UNICEF comprises over 100 international professional and voluntary groups involved with children and either directly or indirectly, through concern with aspects of social development. A roster of international and national correspondent organizations is continuing to grow, particularly from developing countries. Some 400 organizations participate in activities and share information through UNICEF/NGO liaison offices in New York and Geneva. Many of these organizations have become important supporters of UNICEF by providing a channel for advocacy on behalf of children and by participating in fund-raising and in UNICEF programs.
UNICEF's work is accomplished with voluntary contributions from both governments and nongovernmental sources. Total income for 2001 was US $1,218 million. Contributions from governments and intergovernmental organizations accounted for 64% ( US $790 million) of this income; 33% ( US $399 million) was from nongovernmental and private sources; and 3% ( US $36 million) was derived from a variety of other sources. The United States remained the largest donor to UNICEF, providing a total of US $216 million. Japan was the second largest government donor in total funds, with $98 million, followed by the United Kingdom at $74 million and the Netherlands at $69 million. Norway, Sweden, Canada, Italy, Denmark, and Finland were the next largest donors of total funds. Norway, Sweden, and Denmark were the top contributors in total funds per capita. (For a list of the top 20 donor nations and their contributions to regular resources, see the following table.) Additionally, the United Nations Foundation, Inc., established in 1997 by American businessman Ted Turner with a US $1 billion grant, approved more than US $18 million in funds for UNICEF in 1998. In 2001, UNICEF was the recipient of more than $60 million from the sale of a collection of modern art at the bequest of Mme. René Gaffé, the collection's owner.
|Top 20 Donors to UNICEF Regular Resources 2001|
|(in thousands of US dollars)|
|REPUBLIC OF KOREA||1,500||0.03|
UNICEF's total expenditure in 2001 amounted to US $1,246 million, of which 93% went directly to programs and 7% was spent on administration and other charges. Expenditure by program sector was as follows:
|UNICEF Direct Program Assistance by Priorities, 2001|
|(in millions of US dollars)|
|Integrated early child development||364|
|Improved protection of children||146|
Through its extensive field network in developing countries UNICEF undertakes, in coordination with governments, local communities, and other partners, programs in health, nutrition, education, water and sanitation, the environment, women in development, and other activities that improve the well-being of children. Emphasis is placed on community-based programs in which people participate actively and are trained in such skills as health care, midwifery, and teaching.
UNICEF facilitates the exchange of programming experience among developing countries, and encourages governments to undertake a regular review of the situation of their children and to incorporate a national policy for children in their comprehensive development plans. It also places emphasis on national capacity building and the use of national expertise wherever possible.
UNICEF provides assistance on the basis of mutually agreed priorities for children in collaboration with the governments concerned. Priority is given to the world's most vulnerable—almost all its resources are therefore invested in the poorest developing countries, with the greatest share going to children under five years old. As of 2001, UNICEF maintained programs in 162 countries: 46 in sub-Saharan Africa; 35 in Latin America; 34 in Asia; 20 in the Middle East and North Africa; and 27 in Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
In cooperation with the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF supports the expanded Program on Immunization that each year prevents an estimated 2.5 million child deaths from six diseases—diphtheria, measles, poliomyelitis, tetanus, tuberculosis, and whooping cough. However, in 2001 more than 30 million children remain unprotected against common vaccine-preventable diseases. In October 1991, UNICEF and the WHO announced that their goal of protecting 80% of the world's children before their first birthday had been achieved (compared to less than 5% in 1975, when the program was launched). UNICEF and WHO made an effort to raise immunization coverage for the six diseases to this level in all countries, eliminate neonatal tetanus, poliomyelitis and substantially reduce measles deaths and cases by the end of 1995. As a result, a large majority of countries have reached the immunization coverage goal of 80% for all antigens except tetanus toxoid; polio has been eradicated in many countries; major progress has been made towards elimination of neonatal tetanus; and measles mortality and morbidity have been reduced in some regions. UNICEF procures 40% of the world's doses of vaccines for children and is the main supplier to developing countries. The global procurement of vaccines amounted to $261 million in 2001.
UNICEF works closely with WHO to control diarrheal dehydration, which is the single largest cause of death among children under five years of age in the developing world. UNICEF-assisted programs for the control of diarrheal diseases promote the manufacture and distribution of prepackaged salts—oral rehydration salt (ORS)—or homemade solutions. The use of oral rehydration therapy (ORT) has significantly increased from 17% in 1985 to 85% at present, and is believed to prevent more than 1.5 million deaths each year.
ARI, in particular pneumonia, are the single biggest cause of child mortality in the world and account for over 2 million deaths among children under five years of age in developing countries. UNICEF has adopted a comprehensive approach to control ARI, including helping countries to develop national plans and infrastructures; decentralizing activities to substantial level; training health workers; supporting access to essential drugs and appropriate technological devices; and helping with monitoring and communication.
In the 1990s it was estimated that more than a half million women die every year from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. In cooperation with WHO, UNICEF worked to reduce maternal mortality by 50% by the year 2000, to improve prenatal care, and to ensure safe delivery for all pregnant women and access by all couples to family planning services. It also focuses on information, education, and communication on birth-spacing, responsible parenthood, and discouraging early marriage and early pregnancy.
By December 2002, 3.2 million children (800,000 in new infections in 2002) had been infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the vast majority of whom lived in sub-Saharan Africa. A report by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) indicated that the majority of the 5 million newly infected adults in 2002 were under 25 years old, nearly half of them women. It was estimated that in 2002, 42 million people were HIV-infected worldwide. There were 3.1 million AIDS deaths in 2002, of which 610,000 were children.
UNICEF works closely with governments and supports prevention programs such as youth health and development promotion; school-based interventions; sexual and reproductive health promotion; family and community care; and mass communication and mobilization. It also helps AIDS-infected families and AIDS orphans. UNICEF supported HIV/AIDS prevention for adolescents in 71 countries in 2001. That year, more than 720,000 children contracted HIV from their mothers. UNICEF thus supports "prevention of mother-to-child transmission" (PMTCT) of HIV/AIDS in 47 countries. UNICEF contributed research and logistical support to the UN General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS held in June 2001.
UNICEF participates in UNAIDS, cosponsored by the UN Development Fund (UNDF), UN Population Fund (UNFPA), UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organizations (UNESCO), World Health Organization (WHO), and the World Bank.
In 1996, 174 million children were malnourished as a result of frequent bouts of diarrhea and other illnesses, bottle-feeding of infants and poor weaning practices, low birth-weight, infrequent feeding and micronutrient deficiencies. On average, over 50% of young child deaths in developing countries are associated with malnutrition. In 2000, UNICEF's statistics showed that 30% of the world's children were moderately to severely underweight and 11% were wasting. UNICEF fights malnutrition by empowering communities; protecting and promoting breastfeeding and appropriate child feeding practices; controlling the three main forms of micronutrient deficiencies—iron, iodine, and vitamin A; improving nutrition information system; and helping countries to reach consensus as to the causes of malnutrition. It aims to achieve universal salt iodization to prevent iodine deficiency disorders, and to eliminate vitamin A deficiency.
UNICEF participated in the International Conference on Nutrition held in Rome in December 1992 and contributed to the formulation of the World Declaration on Nutrition and the Plan of Action for Nutrition adopted by the conference. The declaration identified children under five years of age as the group most affected by malnutrition.
In coordination with WHO, UNICEF launched in June 1991, a "baby-friendly hospital initiative" to promote breastfeeding. The initiative aims at empowering women to breastfeed by ending the distribution of free and low-cost supplies of infant formula in hospitals and maternity facilities. As of 1996, 8,120 hospitals and maternity facilities had become "baby-friendly" by implementing the "Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding" recommended by UNICEF and WHO. Baby-friendly hospitals encourage mothers to initiate breastfeeding immediately after birth and to continue exclusive breastfeeding, and they do not accept free and low-cost formula from companies.
Polluted water is estimated to affect the health of more than 1.2 billion people, and to contribute to the death of an average 15 million children every year. In 1994, WHO estimated the number of people without access to clean drinking water at 1.3 billion. By 2000, nearly 1.2 billion people lacked access to clean water, while2.4 billion lacked access to adequate sanitation services. Two of every five Africans lack access to an improved water supply. Throughout Africa, rural water services lag far behind urban services. At the beginning of 2000, two-fifths of the world's population (2.4 billion people) lacked access to improved sanitation facilities. The majority of those people lived in Asia and Africa, where fewer than half of all Asians have access to improved sanitation.
To meet the goals of universal access to safe drinking water and to sanitary means of excreta disposal, and elimination of guinea worm disease by the end of the decade, UNICEF allocates a large portion of its income to this sector (for the amount see section on expenditure). In addition to provision of effective low-cost water supply and sanitary services, UNICEF promotes hygiene education and environmental protection. UNICEF is working to eliminate the water-borne guinea worm disease (dracunculiasis).
In its 1999 Annual Report, UNICEF stated that nearly a billion people would enter the 21st century unable to read a book or sign their names and that two-thirds of them were women. The total included more than 130 million school-age children, 73 million of them girls, who were growing up in the developing world without access to basic education. UNICEF works to improve access to primary education and to reduce drop-out rates. It gives priority to the education of girls, with the aim of reducing gender disparities. At the Habitat II in Istanbul, Turkey in June 1996, UNICEF advocated for the inclusion of children's concerns in the Global Action Plan adopted by the assembly.
At the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, UNICEF made a successful effort to include girls' education in the Platform for Action adopted by the conference. Also at the conference, UNICEF promised to more than double its resources to basic education during the 1990s, with special attention to girls' education. The organization reported on its progress at the Beijing+5 conference, in New York in June 2000. In 2002, UNICEF was helping 74 countries break down barriers that exclude girls from education. In 2001, 21 countries reported improvements in school enrollment and retention for girls.
UNICEF supports the UN Millennium Development Goals for education: by 2015, all girls and boys will be able to complete a quality primary and secondary education; by 2005, girls and boys will be equally represented in the classroom.
Almost half of the developing world's urban dwellers are children whose vulnerability has increased with the rapid growth of towns and cities amid economic and environmental crisis and recurring conflict. UNICEF revised its policy in 1993 by focusing on poverty reduction, primary environmental care, rehabilitation, and preventive approaches for urban children in especially difficult circumstances. It also provides advocacy and technical support and emphasizes the need for concerted effort at all levels—national, subnational, and community.
Around the world, millions of children are at special risk because of acute poverty, wars, natural calamities, disabilities, and other circumstances. Children in such situations often become separated from their relatives, left without the protection and security families provide and vulnerable to terrible forms of exploitation and abuse.
Over 250 million children in the world work, many of them are at risk from hazardous exploitative labor, in factories, in domestic services, on the streets, or in degrading conditions of sexual exploitation. An estimated one million children are believed to work as prostitutes. UNICEF supports special projects for children affected in these ways, by helping provide education, reuniting families, and counseling to help heal trauma. It vigorously advocates against the exploitation of children by working with governments international organizations, and non-governmental organizations to protect child rights as set forth in the Convention on the Rights of the child. At the World Conference against Commercial Exploitation of Children that convened in Stockholm in August 1996, UNICEF strongly called for the immediate end to commercial exploitation of children everywhere in the world.
Although most UNICEF activities focus on the "silent" emergencies that claim 12 million children's lives every year, natural disasters and armed conflicts constitute the main "loud" emergencies that challenge the organization's resources. In any emergency situation, UNICEF works closely with other UN agencies and many nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).
The scale of the land mine problem almost defies imagination. Due to the persistence of armed conflicts throughout the world, it is estimated that there are more than 110 million land mines in 68 countries around the world, or one mine for every 20 children in the world today. An estimated 25,000 people are killed or maimed every year by land mines—90% of these victims are civilians and 5,000–6,000 are children. The countries most devastated by land-mines are Afghanistan, Angola and Cambodia. Afghanistan has an estimated 10–15 million mines in place. In Africa, countries with high numbers of lands mines are Mozambique and Somalia, but land mines are also destroying the lives of children in Asia, Central America, the Middle East, and Central and Eastern Europe. The UN has established a voluntary trust fund through which countries can share the burden of mine clearance. As of 2002, countries had pledged $22 million towards the UN goal of $75 million.
UNICEF strongly advocates for a total ban of the production, marketing, and use of land mines and supports land mine awareness programs. In November 1995, UNICEF executive board director Carol Bellamy announced UNICEF's commitment to not deal with companies manufacturing or selling land mines.
Since 1989, UNICEF has assisted in the conversion of foreign debt in developing countries to funds that supplement UNICEF's ongoing contributions to child survival and development in basic education, primary health care, and water and sanitation. The essential feature of the program is that the government concerned agrees to spend local currency on programs for children rather than using its scarce foreign exchange to service the debt.
The State of the World's Children (annual). The Progress of Nations (annual, first appeared 1993). Ranks the nations of the world according to their achievements for children in health, nutrition, and education, as well as progress in the field of family planning and in women's development. UNICEF Annual Report.
OFFICE OF UN HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR REFUGEES (UNHCR) The UN Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) was established on 9 November 1943, to bring material aid to war-stricken areas of the world. Through its services, some 6 million displaced persons were repatriated. The constitution of a successor agency, broader in scope, the International Refugee Organization (IRO), was approved by the General Assembly on 15 December 1946. In addition to the relief and repatriation assistance provided by UNRRA, the IRO was charged with the protection of refugees and displaced persons and with resettlement responsibilities. The IRO Preparatory Commission became operative on 30 June 1947; by 31 December 1951, when IRO's operational activities ceased, more than 1 million persons had been resettled.
As part of a series of initiatives designed to address refugee problems following the dissolution of the IRO, the General Assembly, in December 1949, agreed on the necessity of setting up a body primarily responsible for the international protection of refugees and the search for durable solutions to their plight. As a consequence, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was established as of 1 January 1951 for a limited period of three years. It was soon evident, however, that international assistance was needed, and as new situations that created refugees have continued to arise, UNHCR's mandate has been renewed by the General Assembly for successive periods of five years.
UNHCR was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1954 and again in 1981.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees is elected by the General Assembly on the nomination of the Secretary-General and follows policy directives given by the General Assembly. The Executive Committee of UNHCR meets annually to review activities in the fields of protection and material assistance, approve assistance projects to be included in the next year's annual program, and provide overall guidance. The high commissioner reports to the committee on the implementation of special tasks that he or she may have been called upon to carry out—often at the request of the Secretary-General—and on the administration of special trust funds. In July 1994, ECOSOC recommended that the General Assembly increase the membership of the Executive Committee to 50 states. In 2002, the Executive Committee had been extended to 61 member countries.
UNCHR headquarters are in Geneva, Switzerland. As of July 2002, the organization had 268 offices in 114 countries and a worldwide staff of 5,523 of whom 4,654 (84%) were at work in the field.
In 2002, 19.8 million people fell under the concern of the UNHCR. They included 12 million refugees (61%), 940,800 asylum seekers (5%), 462,700 returned refugees (3%), 5.3 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) (25%), 241,000 returned IDPs (1%) and 1 million others of concern (5%).
The financial arrangements made at the creation of UNHCR reflected the fundamental difference between it and the IRO. The IRO's budget was separate from that of the UN, while a very limited amount of the basic administrative costs of UNHCR is covered by the regular UN budget, since UNHCR is an integral part of the Secretariat, rather than a specialized agency. Its substantive activities in the field of protection and material assistance, however, depend entirely on voluntary contributions.
At the outset, UNHCR was not allowed to appeal to governments for funds without the express authorization of the General Assembly. The first funds of any magnitude put at the high commissioner's disposal came from the Ford Foundation in 1952 in the form of a grant of US $2.9 million (later increased to US $3.1 million) for a pilot program of projects intended to promote the local settlement of some 100,000 refugees in Europe through such measures as low-rent housing, small loans, vocational training, and rehabilitation of the handicapped. Subsequently, in 1954, the General Assembly authorized the high commissioner to appeal to governments for a four-year US $16 million program oriented toward permanent solutions and modeled on the Ford experimental undertaking. The target was eventually reached through US $14.5 million in contributions by governments and over US $2 million by private organizations.
Clearing refugee camps in Europe was the main objective of UNHCR at this time, and the funds needed to finish this task were raised to a large extent through World Refugee Year (1959/60), a campaign that extended to 100 countries and areas. In 1957, UNHCR's capacity to react effectively to unexpected situations was enhanced when the General Assembly authorized the high commissioner to establish an emergency fund not to exceed US $500,000. This innovation grew out of the experience of 1956, when some 200,000 refugees from Hungary crossed into Austria and Yugoslavia within a matter of weeks, prompting the high commissioner to appeal for funds for the emergency. By 1993, the emergency fund's ceiling was raised to US $25 million, with up to US $8 million available for a single emergency in a given year.
With the exception of a very limited subsidy from the United Nations regular budget (which is used exclusively for administrative costs), UNHCR's assistance programs are funded by voluntary contributions from governments, intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations, and individuals. These so-called "voluntary funds" finance all UNHCR assistance programs worldwide. UNHCR's annual voluntary funds expenditure rose rapidly during the last decades of the 1900s, surpassing an annual budget of more than US $1 billion for a fifth consecutive year in 1998. The 1999 budget also surpassed the billion-dollar mark; the US $1.17 billion budget was revised to cover the Kosovo emergency. In 2002, the budget was $1.04 billion.
The high commissioner's primary responsibility is international protection. In addition, he or she promotes durable solutions to the problems of refugees through voluntary repatriation, local integration, or resettlement in another country. Whatever the field of activity, he or she and his or her staff are always guided by humanitarian and strictly nonpolitical considerations. UNHCR's ability to adhere to this policy over the years since its inception in 1951 has led the General Assembly to extend the scope of its material assistance activities, in many cases to persons who do not necessarily meet the definition of refugees contained in the high commissioner's statute. This definition describes refugees as persons who, owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, are outside their country of nationality and are unable or unwilling, because of such fear, to avail themselves of the protection of that country. In recent years, UNHCR has increasingly been called on to help not only refugees but also persons uprooted by man-made disasters and displaced either outside or within their country of origin. However, UNHCR's competence does not extend to refugees already receiving help from another UN organization, notably the Arab refugees from Palestine who are cared for by UNRWA (see separate section).
From its outset, UNHCR's work was intended to be undertaken jointly with other members of the international community. UNHCR draws on the expertise of other United Nations organizations in matters such as food production (FAO), health measures (WHO), education (UNESCO), child welfare (UNICEF), and vocational training (ILO). It also cooperates closely with the World Food Programme in providing basic food supplies to refugees, and with the World Bank and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) inimplementing projects that aim to promote self-reliance. Over the decades, the most sustained and devoted service to the cause of refugees has been provided by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Over 200 NGOs cooperate in UNHCR's relief and legal assistance programs. In 1993, the Nansen Medal, awarded for outstanding service to the cause of refugees, recognized the valuable collaboration of one such NGO, Médecins sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders).
Since refugees no longer enjoy the protection of the countries they have fled, they must rely on the international community to provide it. The main vehicle for international protection is the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 protocol, which lays down minimum standards for the treatment of refugees by countries that have acceded to it. By July 2002, 144 states were party to either the convention or its protocol.
One of the most important provisions of the 1951 convention is that refugees must not be sent back to a country where they may face persecution on grounds of race, political opinion, religion, nationality, or membership in a particular social group (the principle of non-refoulement ). The convention also defines the rights of refugees in the country of asylum with respect to such matters as the right to work, education, access to courts, and social security. Moreover, it provides for the issuance of travel documents by the country of residence to compensate for the fact that refugees are not in a position to use their national passports.
By its statute and under the 1951 convention, UNHCR is given specific responsibility for supervising the application of the provisions of the convention. It is also available to supply technical advice to governments on appropriate legal and administrative measures to give effect to the stipulations of the convention.
Another important legal instrument concerning refugees is the Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa, adopted by the Organization of African Unity in 1969. This convention, which came into force on 20 June 1974, emphasizes that the granting of asylum is a peaceful and humanitarian act that should not be regarded as unfriendly by any member state. A similar provision can be found in the Declaration on Territorial Asylum adopted by the General Assembly in December 1967 (see the section on Other Declarations in the chapter on Human Rights).
Asylum is the key aspect of the protection work of the high commissioner's office. A conference of plenipotentiaries convened by the General Assembly in 1977 "to consider and adopt a convention on territorial asylum" failed to achieve its objectives, and the absence of such a convention remains a gap in the legal basis for the protection of asylum-seekers.
In 1975, UNHCR undertook new duties in the field of protection on a provisional basis, following the entry into force on 13 December of the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. Under the terms of the convention, stateless persons may apply to national authorities to have nationality accorded to themselves or to their children or may ask UNHCR's assistance in presenting a claim.
UNHCR's material assistance activities include emergency relief, assistance in voluntary repatriation or local integration, and resettlement through migration to other countries, as well as social services.
UNHCR's involvement in Africa dates from 1957, when thousands of people fled from the fighting in Algeria to Morocco and Tunisia. Working in conjunction with the League of Red Cross Societies, UNHCR provided both immediate and long-term assistance and helped to organize the repatriation of some 200,000 refugees in 1962, after the cessation of hostilities.
By 1967 there were an estimated 750,000 refugees in Africa, many of them victims of the struggles for independence in Guinea-Bissau, Angola, and Mozambique. In 1974–75, UNHCR assisted in repatriating many of these refugees to their newly independent countries. A large-scale repatriation and rehabilitation program involving some 200,000 refugees and displaced persons in Zimbabwe was coordinated by UNHCR in 1980, and a major repatriation to Chad was completed in 1982.
By the early 1990s, Africa harbored over 6 million refugees, or around one-third of the global refugee population. During the previous decade, refugee situations persisted or erupted in the Horn of Africa, West Africa, and southern Africa. In some cases, such as for Mozambican refugees in Malawi and in the Horn, these situations were exacerbated by drought.
A number of refugees were able to return home, notably Namibians, Ethiopians, and Ugandans in the Sudan, and Somalis in Ethiopia. The repatriation of some 1.7 million Mozambicans got under way in mid-1993. In the Horn, a cross-border approach was put into action aimed at creating conditions conducive to the voluntary repatriation of refugees and safe return of internally displaced persons. This approach has been characterized by the use of "quick impact projects" (QIPs). QIPs entail the execution of small-scale projects, such as the repair and reconstruction of essential facilities; the provision of livestock, seed, and processing machinery; and the establishment of small-scale businesses. The projects are designed to bridge the gap between relief and development by helping returnees and their communities regain self-sufficiency. In certain areas such as North-West Somalia and Mozambique, however, repatriation has been bedeviled by the presence of land-mines in the areas of return.
In 1993, violent upheavals in the central African state of Burundi drove some 580,000 persons to seek refuge in neighboring countries. The following year, bloodshed engulfed neighboring Rwanda, creating, by May 1994, over 800,000 refugees. UNHCR launched emergency assistance programs to cope with refugees from both situations.
UNHCR estimated the cost of the annual program budget for Africa in 2002 at US $320.3 million.
Principal origins of major refugee populations as of 2001 included: 3,809,600 Afghan refugees in Iran and Pakistan; 554,000 Burundi refugees in Tanzania; 530,100 Iraqi refugees in Iran; 489,500 Sudanese in Uganda, Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, and the Central African Republic; 470,600 Angolan refugees in Zambia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Namibia; 439,900 Somali refugees in Kenya, Yemen, Ethiopia, the United States, and the United Kingdom; 426,000 refugees from Bosnia-Herzegovina in Yugoslavia, the United States, Sweden, Denmark, and the Netherlands; 392,100 refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Tanzania, Congo, Zambia, Rwanda, and Burundi; 353,200 Vietnamese refugees in China and the United States, and 333,100 Eritreans in the Sudan. An estimated 3.9 million Palestinians who were covered under the mandate of UNRWS (UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) are not included in these figures. However, Palestinians outside the UNWRA area of operations such as those in Iraq or Libya, are considered to be of concern to UNHCR. At at the end of 2001 their number was 349,100. These statistics include UNHCR estimates for nationalities in industrialized countries on the basis of recent refugee arrivals and asylum seeker recognition.
In August 1974, following events in Cyprus, the high commissioner was designated to coordinate humanitarian relief for 241,300 people who had been uprooted and displaced. In the absence of a political settlement, aid is still being channeled to the island.
Events in Afghanistan in the late 1970s and the 1980s provoked a tremendous exodus from the country. Despite the unprecedented repatriation of 1.5 million Afghans in 1992, at the beginning of 1995 over 2.7 million Afghans remained in exile (1.6 million in Iran and 1.5 million in Pakistan). Hopes for their continued repatriation were stymied by a resurgence of fighting in Afghanistan in April 1992. In that year, Afghanistan itself became a country of asylum when some 60,000 Tajiks escaping from their country's civil war found sanctuary in northern Afghanistan. By 1995, there were still some 18,800 Tajik refugees in Afghanistan.
Following the terrorist attacks on the United States on 11 September 2001, the US-led campaign (Operation Enduring Freedom) against the Taliban and Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda organization in Afghanistan began on 7 October 2001. At the beginning of 2002, nearly 200,000 Afghans joined 3.5 million countrymen already living abroad as refugees, and an additional 511,000 civilians became 'internally displaced persons' (IDPs) within Afghanistan. During the first quarter of 2002, however, the number of Afghan asylum-seekers dropped by 33% across Europe, due most likely to the changes in Afghanistan following 11 September. During the previous decade, the average monthly applications of Afghan asylum-seekers submitted in Europe increased five-fold.
In 1991, the Gulf War led to a situation of mass displacement, creating, by May 1991, some 1.4 million refugees in Iran and 400,000 on the border with Turkey. UNHCR mounted a massive emergency assistance program for these groups, as well as for internally displaced Kurds in northern Iraq. By the end of 1991, most of the Iraqis in Iran and on the Turkish border had returned home. However, due to a decade of repression under Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, 530,100 Iraqis were refugees in Iran as of 2001. As of 2002, Iraqi asylum-seekers replaced Afghans as the top nationality seeking asylum in Europe. In November 2002, with war imminent, Iran announced that it would accept further refugees from Iraq if they were in danger, but they would not be allowed to settle in cities. Following the US-led attack on Iraq and the fall of the Hussein government in March 2003, UNCHR returned to Iraq to assist the estimated 500,000 refugees and 800,000 internally displaced persons. UNHCR established support for organized voluntary repatriation, since the majority of Iraqi refugees desired to return to their homes.
UNHCR estimated the cost of the annual program budget for South West Asia, North Africa, and the Middle East in 2002 at US $90.8 million.
In May 1971, the high commissioner was appointed "focal point" for UN assistance to millions of Bengali refugees from East Pakistan (later Bangladesh) in India. More than US $180 million in cash, goods, or services was channeled through this focal point, mainly for emergency relief in India but also for the repatriation operation that began early in 1972, following the creation of Bangladesh. The operation involved the transfer of non-Bengalis from Bangladesh to Pakistan and of Bengalis from Pakistan to Bangladesh. By the time it was concluded in July 1974, 241,300 people had been moved, nearly all by air, across the subcontinent in either direction.
Another major crisis erupted in mid-1978, when nearly 200,000 refugees from the Arakan state of Burma flooded into Bangladesh. UNHCR was again designated as coordinator of UN assistance. Following an agreement concluded with the Burmese government in July 1978, repatriation began in November of that year. The UNHCR program included assistance to the returnees once they were back in their country of origin.
Early in 1975, the conflict that for almost three decades had involved Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos came to an end with changes of regime in the three countries of Indochina. Since that time, over 2.8 million Vietnamese, Cambodians, and Lao have left their homes and sought asylum in neighboring countries. These mass movements reached their peak in 1979, when some 393,560 people arrived by boat or overland in various asylum countries throughout the region, and in early 1980, when additional large numbers of Kampucheans moved into the border area with Thailand to escape hostilities in their own country.
UNHCR has undertaken to provide temporary assistance for Indochinese in various countries of Southeast Asia, to ask governments to extend permanent resettlement opportunities, and to facilitate voluntary repatriation where feasible. In addition, large numbers of displaced persons in the Thai-Kampuchean border area have been assisted by other UN agencies and the ICRC. By the beginning of 1994, some 2.7 million Indo-Chinese Refugees and displaced persons had been resettled, repatriated, or integrated locally, while around 88,000 remained in camps throughout the region.
Under the terms of a memorandum of understanding concluded with the Vietnamese government in May 1979, UNHCR has been coordinating a program of orderly departure from Vietnam. A further coordinating role has been played by UNHCR in the funding of a major program to combat piracy against refugee boats and other vessels in the South China Sea. In 1995, there were an estimated 341,600 Vietnamese refugees, mostly seeking asylum in China or Hong Kong.
The Comprehensive Plan of Action for Indo-Chinese Refugees (CPA) was adopted in June 1989 with the objective of discouraging clandestine departures; assuring access to status determination procedures for all asylum-seekers; providing resettlement opportunities for bona fide refugees; and ensuring a safe and dignified repatriation for those not determined to be refugees. The CPA had the effect of dramatically reducing the numbers of Lao and Vietnamese asylum-seekers; the number of Vietnamese asylum-seekers, for example, dropped from 71,364 in 1989 to a mere 55 in 1992.
The repatriation of Cambodians from Thailand, which began in March 1992, resulted in the return home of some 387,000 refugees, or nearly the whole caseload in Thailand. Returnees and the communities receiving them were assisted, in some cases, by means of QIPs (see the section on Africa, above), to consolidate their reintegration.
In 1991–92, around 250,000 mainly Muslim refugees fled Myanmar to Bangladesh. At the request of the government of Bangladesh, UNHCR began assisting this group in February 1992. At the beginning of 1995, there were some 203,900 refugees from Myanmar seeking asylum, mostly in Thailand and Bangladesh.
Some 140,000 Sri Lankan Tamils sought safety from their country's communal violence in the Indian State of Tamil Nadu. In Sri Lanka, UNHCR assists both the returnees and internally displaced persons. In 2002, UNHCR was assisting 66,000 refugees in the government-run refugee camps in south India for repatriation. Over 70,000 internally displaced people had also returned to their homes in the northeast of Sri Lanka since the beginning of 2002, and the trend had increased after a ceasefire accord was signed early that year.
At the end of 2001, Asia hosted the largest refugee population of concern to UNHCR, at 48.3%. UNHCR estimated the cost of the annual program budget for Asia and Oceania for 2002 at US $50 million.
Originally, Latin America was a primary resettlement area for European refugees. However, the events in Chile in September 1973 involved UNHCR in major assistance measures for Latin American refugees. UNHCR had to contend first with the problem of several thousand refugees of various nationalities in Chile, providing relief, care, and maintenance and helping establish "safe havens" where they could live until their resettlement could be arranged.
In addition to ongoing assistance to Chilean refugees, UNHCR was called on to assist an increasing number of Nicaraguans in Costa Rica, Honduras, and Panama in late 1978. By 1979, the number of Nicaraguan refugees receiving such assistance had risen to 100,000. However, following the change of government in Nicaragua in July 1979, voluntary repatriation began, and UNHCR launched a special program to facilitate both the return itself and the rehabilitation of returnees through assistance in areas such as agriculture, health, and housing.
In the early 1980s, Central America became an area of increasingly grave concern to UNHCR. By the end of 1980, 80,000 refugees from El Salvador had sought refuge in neighboring countries. The International Conference on Central American Refugees (CIREFCA), which was convened in May 1989, proved to be of considerable help in facilitating a convergence towards durable solutions for uprooted populations. The move towards democratization in the region, the success of regional peace initiatives, and the CIREFCA process resulted in a reduction in refugee numbers as a result of attainment of durable solutions. In Haiti, however, the overthrow of the country's democratically elected president in September 1991 led to an exodus of Haitians seeking asylum in the region. Despite UNHCR's plea to governments in the region to uphold the principle of non-refoulement , Haitian asylum-seekers continued to be interdicted on the high seas. Beginning in 1992, political violence prompted many Guatemalans to go into exile. At the start of 1995, UNHCR was assisting over 42,000 Guatemalan refugees who had gone to neighboring Mexico. About 10,000 Guatemalans per year have returned as the situation became conducive to repatriation. Due to civil war in Colombia during the late 1990s and into the new millennium, UNHCR was working to address the worsening humanitarian situation of internally displaced people (IDPs) in Colombia. Thousands of Colombians, the majority of whom are women and children, were displaced in early 2002 in a country where the total number of displaced people since 1995 has been estimated at over two million
UNHCR estimated the cost of the annual program budget for the Americas and the Caribbean for 2002 at US $24.1 million.
When UNHCR came into existence in 1951, it inherited responsibility for some 120,000 persons still living in refugee and displaced persons' camps, mainly in the Federal Republic of Germany, Austria, Italy, and Greece. The great majority of these persons had been uprooted during World War II, primarily through the Nazi policies of removing people from occupied territories for forced labor and forcibly shifting populations for racial reasons. Particularly deplorable was the situation of the children born in the camps. Clearance of those camps was long delayed, mainly for lack of funds. Eventually, some 100,000 people, refugees since World War II, were settled as a result of UNHCR's programs.
New movements of refugees have, however, continued to occur. One of the largest of these was the result of the Hungarian crisis in 1956. The high commissioner was called on, in October 1956, to coordinate the activities of governments and voluntary organizations on behalf of the 200,000 Hungarians who sought refuge in Austria and Yugoslavia. From October 1956 until the end of 1959, about 180,000 Hungarian refugees arrived in Austria, and 19,000 in Yugoslavia. The total movement involved 203,100 persons. Of these, 18,000 eventually chose to return to Hungary, 9,600 elected to remain in Austria, 65,400 went to other European countries, and 107,400 emigrated overseas; the whereabouts of 2,700 are unknown.
In November 1991, UNHCR received a mandate from the United Nations Secretary-General to act as the lead United Nations agency to provide protection and assistance to those affected by conflict in the former Yugoslavia, then estimated at half a million people. By the beginning of 1995, there were 843,000 refugees from the former Yugoslavia seeking asylum, mostly in Croatia, Serbia, and Germany. There also were 1,282,000 internally displaced persons in Bosnia-Herzegovina and 307,000 in Croatia.
The war between Armenia and Azerbaijan in the early 1990s created some 663,100 displaced Azeris and some 299,000 refugees from Azerbaijan seeking asylum in Armenia at that time, and 201,500 refugees from Armenia seeking asylum in Azerbaijan. The military conflict in Georgia created around 280,000 refugees and displaced persons. UNHCR, in coordination with the United Nations Department of Humanitarian Affairs and other UN agencies, operated emergency response programs in all three countries. In May 1996, UNHCR convened a regional conference to address the problems of refugees, displaced persons, and returnees in the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). UNCHR estimated at that time there were 2.4 million refugees and internally displaced persons in the CIS countries.
As of May 2002, around 900,000 refugees had returned to Kosovo since June 1999, when UN peacekeeping troops entered the province. But the vast majority of these were from the Kosovo Albanian majority in the province. Around 231,000 people from Kosovo, mostly Serbs, were in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and there are around 22,000 people from minorities still displaced inside Kosovo itself.
Fighting in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) took place in early 2001, when an ethnic Albanian guerrilla group emerged in Macedonia and began clashing with government security forces. By June 2001, some 48,000 people had fled Macedonia for Kosovo. By mid-2002, more than 150,000 of the 170,000 persons displaced during the spring and summer of 2001 had returned home.
UNHCR estimated the cost of the annual program budget for Europe at US $147.9 million.