Government of Canada

Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada


Table of Contents

© UNHCR/H. Caux


Established in 1950, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) leads and coordinates international action to protect refugees and resolve refugee problems worldwide. The UNHCR has twice won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Canada has a long-standing relationship with UNHCR, dating back to Canada's initial involvement in the negotiation of the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (PDF, 97 KB, 12 pages) and active participation in the UNHCR Executive Committee since 1958.

Canada is an important contributor to the UNHCR, which uses funding from Canada to protect and assist refugees, internally displaced persons and those who are stateless, while searching for lasting solutions to their plight.

Aside from Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada (DFATD), several Canadian government departments, including Citizenship and Immigration Canada, the Canada Border Services Agency, and the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, work with UNHCR. DFATD manages the administrative and financial aspects of Canada's relations with the UNHCR, leads on humanitarian policy issues related to displacement, and supports protection and assistance activities in developing countries.

Even though UNHCR is a humanitarian organization, it has integrated many of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) into its operations and works to ensure that refugees and internally displaced persons benefit from, and contribute to, initiatives aimed at achieving the MDGs in their country of refuge.

At the end of 2012, about 35.8 million people, including 10.5 million refugees, 17.7 million internally displaced persons, and 3.3 million stateless persons, were of concern to the UNHCR.

Thematic Focus

The objectives of the UNHCR align closely with Canada's humanitarian assistance mandate to save lives, alleviate suffering, and help those affected by conflicts and natural disasters maintain their dignity.

Strategy for Working with the UNHCR

Canada's humanitarian assistance work with UNHCR focuses on five strategic objectives, which are to:

  1. help the UNHCR continue to find solutions for refugees and internally displaced persons, especially those in drawn-out refugee situations, including:
    • increasing livelihood opportunities for refugees;
    • reintegrating returnees and guaranteeing their political, social, and economic rights;
    • promoting strategic resettlement;
  2. ensure that the protection of women, children, and groups with specific needs remain a priority for the UNHCR, with a special focus on preventing and responding to sexual and gender-based violence, sexual exploitation, and abuse;
  3. support the UNHCR's efforts to strengthen protection and assistance for refugees and internally displaced persons;
  4. assist the UNHCR's continued efforts to rapidly mobilize staff, equipment, and relief items to respond to humanitarian emergencies; and
  5. support the UNHCR in become a learning organization by systematically integrating evaluation findings and recommendations into the development of improved policies, strategies, and practices.


In 2012, with the support of Canada and other donors, the UNHCR:

  • provided protection or assistance to 35.8 million people: 10.5 million refugees, 17.7 million internally displaced persons, 3.3 million stateless persons, 936,000 asylum seekers, 526,000 returned refugees, 1.5 million returned internally displaced persons, and 1.3 million other people of concern;
  • assisted close to 71,000 refugees in resettling to third countries;
  • assisted some 700,000 internally displaced Syrians, as well as refugees from Iraq and elsewhere, despite the deterioration in security across the country;
  • provided some 120,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon with non-food items, including heating-fuel coupons, stoves, and blankets, as well as hygiene kits, mattresses, and clothing;
  • assisted some 38,800 and 50,200 Malian refugees in Burkina Faso and Niger respectively, as well as some 40,100 internally displaced people in Mali;
  • facilitated the acquisition of nationality documentation for some 40,000 South Sudanese;
  • provided protection and basic needs to approximately 758,000 internally displaced persons in Pakistan, and also facilitated the voluntary repatriation of some 80,000 Afghan refugees;
  • provided kits to more than 11,000 Central African Republic refugees and more than 22,000 Sudanese refugees in Chad to help them with agricultural and livestock activities;
  • enrolled more than 64,700 school-aged refugees in formal schools in Ethiopia, more than 55 percent more than in 2011;
  • assisted some 14,300 internally displaced persons in Colombia through legal aid clinics;
  • responded to the needs of some 65,000 internally displaced persons in southeastern Myanmar;
  • assisted with the reintegration of more than 100,000 refugees and internally displaced person returnees in Iraq;
  • undertook interventions to combat sexual and gender-based violence in Somalia, benefiting some 32,900 individuals; and
  • collaborated with local health structures in the Democratic Republic of Congo to help bring down the mortality rate among refugee children under the age of five from 2 per 1,000 individuals at the end of 2011 to 0.76 by the close of 2012.

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