A Safety Net
Governments normally guarantee the basic human rights and physical security of their citizens. But when people become refugees this safety net disappears. Refugees fleeing war or persecution are often in a very vulnerable situation. They have no protection from their own state – indeed it is often their own government that is threatening to persecute them. If other countries do not let them in, and do not protect and help them once they are in, then they may be condemning them to an intolerable situation where their basic rights, security and, in some cases their lives, are in danger.
The protection of 34.4 million uprooted or stateless people is the core mandate of UNHCR. The agency does this in several ways: it ensures the basic human rights of uprooted or stateless people in their countries of asylum or habitual residence end that refugees will not be returned involuntarily to a country where they could face persecution. Longer term, the organization helps refugees find appropriate durable solutions to their plight, by repatriating voluntarily to their homeland, integrating in countries of asylum or resettling in third countries.
In many countries, UNHCR staff work alongside other partners in a variety of locations ranging from capital cities to remote camps and border areas. They attempt to promote or provide legal and physical protection, and minimize the threat of violence – including sexual assault – which many refugees are subject to, even in countries of asylum. They also seek to provide at least a minimum of shelter, food, water and medical care in the immediate aftermath of any refugee exodus, while taking into account the specific needs of women, children, the elderly and the disabled.