United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is a global humanitarian organization and a refugee agency that was established on December 14, 1950 to support and help Europeans that were displaced during the World War II. The agency was set up by the United Nations General Assembly for just three years and was to be disbanded after that. In 1951, the United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees was adopted. In 1956, when Hungarian Revolution was suppressed by Soviet Forces, the UNHCR’s role became highly significant thus eliminating the need to disband the agency.
The start of the 21st Century has seen UNHCR helping with major refugee crises in Africa, such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Somalia, and Asia, especially the 30-year-old Afghan refugee problem. At the same time, UNHCR has been asked to use its expertise to also help many internally displaced by conflict.
In 1954, UNHCR won the Nobel Peace Prize for its groundbreaking work in helping the refugees of Europe. From only 34 staff members when UNHCR was founded, it now has more than 7,190 national and international members of staff. The agency works in 123 countries, with staff based in 124 main locations such as regional and branch offices and 272 often remote sub-offices and field offices.
UNHCR now deals with 36.4 million people of concern to UNHCR: 15.6 million internally displaced people, 10.4 million refugees, 2.5 million returnees, 6.5 million stateless people, more than 980,000 asylum seekers and more than 400,000 other persons of concern.
In this context, UNHCR has come up with a toolkit for Practical Cooperation on Resettlement. Community Outreach – Outreach to Refugee Communities
Outreach activities that can jointly engage UNHCR and NGOs
NGOs may assist with or lead information campaigns to make refugees aware of Programs and policies that affect them. Such campaigns might include: community meetings, door-to-door visits, meetings with community members and leaders, messaging through flyers, posters or billboards, or arts and cultural events.
NGOs can assist with the exchange of information between refugees and UNHCR, relaying news and concerns or issues that will assist UNHCR in its work with States to provide effective protection for refugees and to inform the development of policies and Programs.
Oftentimes, NGOs have close contact with refugee communities, which enables them to be the “eyes and ears” in many situations to bring to light at-risk refugees in need of interventions including resettlement. In this way, NGOs play an important role in expanding access to resettlement.
Key elements / considerations while conducting outreach activities
It is important that NGOs and UNHCR coordinate the outreach messaging carefully, to ensure a consistent message. NGOs and UNHCR should do joint contingency planning prior to commencing a major information or sensitization campaign, to anticipate any potential problems and plan how to mitigate / address them. Where possible, refugees and other key stakeholders should be involved in the planning process and the development and implementation of information sharing activities. It is important that there be established feedback mechanisms in place for information from the community to flow back to NGOs and UNHCR.
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