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Who We Help

Who we help"I have experienced firsthand as an eight-year-old girl what it is like to be saved by UNHCR, to be given food and shelter when you are driven from your home and family. No one wants to be a refugee: they just want to live a normal life like everyone else but they are powerless to change the situation in their country, to change their circumstances."

- Adut Dau Atem, a former refugee from Sudan who found shelter in a UNHCR camp in Kenya.

Refugees - protecting refugees is UNHCR's core mandate. Refugees have to move if they are to save their lives or preserve their freedom. They have no protection from their own state - in fact, it is often their own government that is threatening to persecute them. If other countries do not let them in, and do not help them once they are in, then they may be condemning them to death - or to an intolerable life in the shadows, without sustenance and without rights.

UNHCR helps refugees at every stage of their ordeal. As well as providing emergency shelter, food, water and medical care, UNHCR strives to improve refugees' quality of life and future opportunities, providing infrastructure, schools and income generating projects in established refugee camps and communities.

Internally displaced people - internally displaced people, or IDPs, are often wrongly called refugees. Unlike refugees, IDPs have not crossed an international border to safety but have remained inside their home countries. Even if they have fled for similar reasons as refugees (armed conflict, human rights violations), IDPs legally remain under the protection of their own government - even though that government might be the cause of their flight. As citizens, they retain all of their rights and protection under both human rights and international humanitarian law.

IDPs are now the largest group that UNHCR supports - in 2009 there were some 26 million worldwide.

Victims of natural disaster - Over the last two decades the number of recorded natural disasters has doubled from 200 to over 400 per year. Natural disasters caused by climate change not only displace people from their homes, but they also create further challenges for refugees who have already fled their homes to another country. From cyclones to earthquakes, and monsoons to tsunamis, UNHCR is on the ground providing emergency shelter and lifesaving essentials such as sleeping mats, plastic sheeting, soap and kitchen sets to people who have lost everything. UNHCR will continue to develop and expand its climate change policy and operations.

Returnees - returnees are the displaced who are able to return home. This is the best possible solution for those who have been uprooted from their homes.

UNHCR helps repair and rebuild facilities in their hometowns, and supports the establishment of local programs for education, training and income generation. UNHCR has helped an incredible 9.6 million people return home over the past 10 years.

Stateless people - Statelessness is a massive problem that affects an estimated 12 million people worldwide, and has a terrible impact on the lives of individuals. Possession of nationality is essential for full participation in society and a prerequisite for the enjoyment of the full range of human rights.

Asylum-seekers - The terms asylum-seeker and refugee are often confused: an asylum-seeker is someone who says he or she is a refugee, but whose claim has not yet been definitively evaluated. National asylum systems are there to decide which asylum-seekers actually qualify for international protection. Those judged through proper procedures not to be refugees, nor to be in need of any other form of international protection, can be sent back to their home countries.

Find out more about who we help