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close this bookHandbook for Emergencies - Second Edition (UNHCR, 1999, 414 p.)
close this folder2. Protection
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentProtection in Emergencies
View the documentInitial Actions
View the documentPhysical Safety of Refugees
View the documentEmergencies as a Result of Changes in Government Policy
View the documentOther Persons of Concern to UNHCR
View the documentDurable Solutions
View the documentKey References
View the documentAnnexes

Other Persons of Concern to UNHCR

85. In addition to refugees as defined by the relevant international instruments (see paragraph 7 above), UNHCR has also been empowered to extend protection to the following categories. Refugees, as well as the categories of persons described below, are often referred to as "persons of concern to UNHCR".


86. Returnees are refugees who return voluntarily to their country of origin and who formally cease to be refugees as soon as they cross the border. UNHCR has been entrusted by the UN General Assembly to protect and assist returnees, both during the journey and once back in the country of origin and to facilitate finding durable solutions to their problems.

Stateless Persons

87. A stateless person is a person who is not considered as a national by any country. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has a right to a nationality and no one should be arbitrarily deprived of his/her nationality or of the right to change his/her nationality. The main international instruments dealing with statelessness are listed in Annex 1. UNHCR has been designated as the body which can assist stateless persons in presenting their claims to appropriate authorities, and in providing technical and advisory services to states on the preparation and implementation of nationality legislation.

Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).

88. IDPs can be broadly defined as persons who have been forced to flee their homes suddenly or unexpectedly in large numbers

Considerations Regarding UNHCR Involvement with IDP's.

89. The main requirements for UNHCR's involvement with the internally displaced4 are :

i. A specific request from the UN General Assembly, the Secretary General or other competent principle organ of the UN;

ii. The consent of the concerned state or other relevant entity;

iii. The relevance of UNHCR's expertise to assist, protect and seek solutions for internally displaced persons in the particular situation;

iv. The availability of resources for the activities in question.

4See; UNHCR's Role with Internally Displaced Persons, IOM87/97, FOM 91/97, UNHCR, 1997. as a result of armed conflict, internal strife, systematic violations of human rights or natural or man-made disasters and who are within the territory of their country.

Criteria for Involvement

Certain situations may demonstrate the usefulness of UNHCR's involvement. These are situations which present a clear link with activities UNHCR undertakes in fulfillment of its mandate, for example where internally displaced populations are, or are likely to be, mixed with returnee populations, or where the same causes have produced both internal displacement and a refugee flow, or where there is a risk of cross-border expansion of the internal displacement. Where the link with mandated activities is not present, UNHCR may consider involvement with IDPs to attenuate the causes of internal displacement and contribute to conflict resolution through humanitarian action.

Measures to Assist IDPs

Measures to assist IDPs are broadly similar to those used for refugees. However, by definition, IDPs remain within their own country, and it is the national laws of that state which provide the framework for their protection and rights, rather than specific international legal instruments. Universal human rights instruments, of course, also apply to IDPs.

The presence of UNHCR staff and the staff of other international organizations in the areas where IDPs have sought safety has proven helpful in encouraging authorities and parties to the conflict to respect national laws and universal human rights.