UNHCR: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees - Core Contribution

Project completed

Country/region Topic Period Budget
Forced displacement (refugees, IDP, human trafficking)
01.01.2015 - 31.12.2015
CHF 15'000'000
Area of responsibility

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has a global mandate to lead and coordinate international efforts to protect refugees and resolve refugee problems worldwide. Its primary purpose is to safeguard their rights and well-being as laid down in the 1951 Refugee Convention and in the 1967 Protocol, which describe the rights of refugees, asylum seekers and stateless persons as well as the obligations of states. 144 states are party to the 1951 Convention and 145 to the 1967 Protocol.

One of UNHCR’s major roles is finding durable solutions for refugees, either through repatriation or, where this is too dangerous, through resettlement in third countries. Following the 2005 UN humanitarian response review, UNHCR has assumed assistance protection for internally displaced persons in conflict situations within the UN cluster approach and is responsible for the global clusters "Protection", "Shelter" and "Camp Coordination and Management".

Switzerland's and the organisation's strategic priorities and their coherence

Switzerland’s contributions (cash, secondment, in-kind) to UNHCR partly derive from the 1951 Convention preamble establishing that state parties have a responsibility to "share the burden" with refugee host countries. Being the only organisation mandated by the General Assembly to provide protection and assistance to refugees and stateless, UNHCR is an unequivocal partner of Switzerland. Within the humanitarian response review, UNHCR has assumed responsibility of the global protection cluster in favour of internally displaced persons (IDP) in conflict situations. For Switzerland, UNHCR has become a key partner for the implementation of its recently adopted strategy for the Protection of Civilians (PoC).

Switzerland strategic priorities:

  • Protection of the population affected by conflicts and disasters is enhanced, with a focus on age, gender and diversity vulnerabilities
  • Basic needs and essential services meet international standards
  • Swiss personnel with UNHCR is increased (Junior professional officer/JPO, secondment, UN staff)
  • The UN response to emergencies is improved through better coordination and operational performances of UNHCR in the field.
Results of the organisation's previous engagement
  • Improvements to the national laws and policies, in accordance with international standards concerning refugees, asylum-seekers and IDPs, were sought in more than 112 countries and legislative changes were reported in 14 countries. To this end, UNHCR continued its work with states to develop and implement protection sensitive entry systems. It undertook joint border monitoring exercises, trained border officials to increase their capacities to deal with asylum issues, and developed standardised procedures for identification, registration and follow-up for asylum-seekers and refugees arriving at border. UNHCR advocacy and legal intervention promoted access to safe, fair and efficient asylum procedures.
  • UNHCR continued to roll out its updated strategy on SGBV, with an emphasis on emergencies in 2012. Fifteen operations developed five-year strategies, while UNHCR staff and partners in 41 countries received support in SGBV strategy development and monitoring. Improvements in the provision of support to known SGBV survivors were reported in 51 refugee situations.
  • Increases in the proportion of unaccompanied or separated refugee children for whom a best interest determination process has been completed or initiated were reported in 24 refugee situations, while the proportion was maintained in an additional 18 refugee situations.
  • Increases in the percentage of households living in adequate dwellings reported in 31 refugee situations, in 9 situations where UNHCR is operationally involved, in 3 returnee situations, while the percentage was maintained in a further 24 situations.
  • Increases in water supply levels in 25 refugee situations, while the levels were maintained in a further 15 situations.
  • Some 90 % of those who expressed their intention to return voluntarily to their country of origin were supported in doing so by UNHCR in 54 situations.
  • Improvement in opportunities for local integration reported in 19 refugee situations.
Results of Switzerland's engagement in previous phase

Switzerland is firmly engaged in the consultation process leading to the regular adoption of Conclusions on International Protection by the UNHCR Executive Committee. The topic debated in 2014 concerns child education.

A long-lasting collaboration has been established with the UNHCR Division of Programme Support and Management (DPSM) with the objective of rebuilding UNHCR technical capacities and the technical integrity of its programme. The technical capacities at UNHCR HQ were significantly downgraded in the late 1990s, seriously reducing the quality of institutional guidance, support to field operations and monitoring of programmes. Switzerland’s dedicated contributions through cash and secondments have played an important role in the creation of a settlement and shelter unit as well as a cash unit within the DPSM in Geneva. Long-time expert secondments and stable annual funding from Switzerland have brought the High Commissioner to dedicate additional resources to technical sectors, in particular in the area of water and sanitation.

With the publication of four new "technical" strategies since early 2013 (Global Strategy for Livelihoods, Global Strategy for Settlement and Shelter, Global Strategy for Safe Access to Fuel and Energy and Global Strategy for Public Health), Switzerland’s contribution to restoring UNHCR capacities for greater technical integrity of its programmes is producing results.

SDC/HA "Disaster Risk Reduction and Environment" expert group is regularly contributing to UNHCR operations and programmes to improve fuel efficiency and promote better use of available and alternative sources of energy. The group contributed to the strategy document "Global Strategy for Safe Access to Fuel and Energy".

Switzerland also closely follows the development of "cash modality" projects and maintains a regular dialogue with UNHCR both at HQ and field level, with for example, the secondment of two cash experts to Lebanon in order to design a multi-purpose "cash" project, expected to launch by the autumn 2014. It also provides the secondment of a shelter expert at the UNHCR HQ for rapid deployment in acute emergencies such as in Iraq and the Central African Republic in order to set up the inter-agency shelter coordination mechanism.

Medium-term outcome of organisation's current engagement

Among many objectives relevant to the protection of and assistance to persons of concern, UNHCR aims to:

  • Ensure access to territorial protection and asylum procedures; protection against refoulement.
  • Reduce protection risks for people of concern, in particular discrimination, sexual and gender-based violence and specific risks faced by children.
  • Expand opportunities for durable solutions, particularly for those in protracted situations, including through strengthening the use of comprehensive approaches and contributing to sustainable reintegration, local settlement and successful resettlement in third countries.
  • Meet international standards in relation to shelter, domestic energy, water, sanitation and hygiene.
  • Promote human potential through increased opportunities for quality education and support of livelihoods.
Directorate/federal office responsible SDC
Credit area Humanitarian aid
Project partners Contract partner
United Nations Organization (UNO)
  • Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees

Budget Current phase Swiss budget CHF   15'000'000 Swiss disbursement to date CHF   15'000'000
Project phases Phase 22 01.01.2017 - 31.12.2017   (Completed)

Phase 20 01.01.2015 - 31.12.2015   (Completed)

Portrait of the organisation

The UNHCR is responsible for ensuring international protection for refu gees and works to provide solutions to the problems they face. It carries out its work in accordance with its statute and is guided by the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol. International refugee law constitutes the basic regulatory framework of the UNHCR's activities.

The Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme and the United Nations General Assembly have authorised the UNHCR to intervene on behalf of other groups in addition to refugees. These groups include stateless persons, persons whose nationality is disputed, and in some cases persons displaced inside their own country.

The UNHCR works closely with governments, with regional and international organisations, and with NGOs. The participation of refugees in the decisions that affect their lives is an essential principle of UNHCR work.


The UNHCR carries out a wide range of protection activities that in particular help define legal norms at the national and international levels, promote gender equality and the protection of women and girls, ensure that protection guarantees are integrated into regional strategies regarding various types of migrants (mixed migration movements), and enable refugee status to be determined. Finding long-term solutions – refugees returning voluntarily and in dignity and safety; local integration; resettlement in another country – lies at the heart of the UNHCR's work and responsibilities.

Results: Support for victims of sexual and gender-based violence

The assistance provided by the UNHCR to victims of sexual and gender-based violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo rose considerably. There was a significant rise in the number of cases registered, which meant an increase in the number of aid beneficiaries. This improvement was made possible by the close collaboration between the UNHCR and its partners with military authorities and local police, as well as with community leaders. The UNHCR was thus able to extend protection to include persons repatriated. Youth networks and women's associations have worked in synergy to fight sexual and gender-based violence. The UNHCR has also provided its partners and groups from civil society with training in the legal measures to be taken to support victims of this type of violence.

Switzerland's commitment

Priorities of Switzerland

Since the institution was set up, Switzerland has provided three of its high commissioners. Switzerland has been represented on the Executive Committee since its inception in 1958. The Executive Committee supports the High Commissioner in their functions, approves the programmes they submit and audits the finances and administration of the UNHCR. In its collaboration with the UNHCR, Switzerland pursues five priority objectives:

  • Promoting respect for the Refugee Convention and its additional protocols
  • Increasing the capacity of host countries in terms of asylum and protection
  • Responding to the needs of women, children and vulnerable persons
  • Ensuring services of protection for people, systematically taking aspects of age, gender and diversity into account
  • Promoting respect for international norms surrounding the protection of internally displaced persons
  • Responding to emergency situations quickly and efficiently

In addition to its basic financial contributions, the SDC also makes targeted contributions, which enable it to finance UNHCR programmes that tie in with Switzerland's humanitarian priorities. In this way, the UNHCR's activities in the area of protection for civilians in armed conflicts receive considerable support from the SDC.

Results: Swiss expertise at the disposal of the UNHCR

The SDC makes experts from the Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit (SHA) available to the UNHCR. The UNHCR benefited from the services of SHA specialists in a variety of sectors, including water and sanitation, law and the construction of shelters. In 2015, 24 SHA experts carried out missions for the UNHCR in 14 countries in Africa, Asia, South America and the Middle East.


The activities of the UNHCR reflect the dramatic situations facing millions of people, most of whom are living in neighbouring countries that have taken them in and which are shouldering most of the burden of supporting them.

The UNHCR estimates that almost 61.4 million people – refugees, stateless persons, persons displaced internally by conflicts or wishing to return home – will require its protection and assistance in 2016.

International Cooperation: A profession

40 short films portray UN employees in Geneva. Beneath the films, the favored language of subtitles (de, fr, en, it) can be selected.