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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


UNHCR's Mandate


UNHCR's fundamental responsibilities are to:

i. Provide international protection to refugees; and

ii. Seek permanent solutions for their problems.

2. The need for international protection arises from the fact that refugees, unlike ordinary aliens, no longer have the protection of their home country. International protection is a temporary substitute for the protection normally provided by States to their nationals abroad until the refugee can again benefit from national protection.

In an emergency it must first be established that the persons endangered are of Concern to UNHCR and thus entitled to protection.

3. The legal basis for securing this protection, the aim of protection, and the means to provide it, must be clearly understood. This chapter addresses these questions.

Legal Instruments

4. All UNHCR staff must be familiar with the key international instruments covering the protection of refugees. Of fundamental importance are the following:

i. Statute of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees;

ii. 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol;

iii. 1969 Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa of the Organization of African Unity (OAU); iv. 1984 Cartagena Declaration on Refugees, and 1994 San Jose Declaration.

5. Annex 1 lists these and other relevant international instruments and their main purpose(s).

6. Refugees enjoy basic human rights set out in instruments such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and other instruments listed in Annex 1, as well as the rights they have as refugees which are described in the various refugee instruments.

Refugee Definition

7. A refugee is defined as:

any person who is outside his/her country of origin and who is unwilling or unable to return there or to avail him/herself of its protection because of:

i. a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion; or

ii. a threat to life or security as a result of armed conflict and other forms of widespread violence which seriously disturb the public order.

Whether a person is a refugee is not dependent on formal recognition, but on the fact of meeting the definition of refugee.