United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)

“Everyone has the right to seek and enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution”.

Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights


The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was established on December 14, 1950 by the United Nations General Assembly. The agency is mandated to lead and co-ordinate international action to protect refugees and resolve refugee problems worldwide. Its primary purpose is to safeguard the rights and well-being of refugees, supervising the implementation of the 1951 UN Refugee Convention by supporting Sates in their duty to provide appropriate protection mechanisms, and ensure that refugees are offered effective solutions such as local integration and voluntarily return. Resettlement is also a durable solution that is reserved for exceptional cases fulfilling strict protection criteria including those established by the resettlement country. UNHCR  also has a mandate to help reduce and prevent statelessness in the world, promoting international standards as contained in the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.

Over the past 60 years, the Agency has helped tens of millions of people restart their lives. Today, a staff of over 7,685 people working with government and civil society partners in 126 countries, continues to help about 42 million uprooted persons.

UNHCR earned two Nobel Peace Prizes in 1954 and 1981, and has awarded its own prestigious Nansen medal to eminent personalities committed to the protection and service to uprooted and stateless people.

António Guterres became the 10th UN High Commissioner for Refugees on June 15, 2005. A former Portuguese Prime Minister, Guterres was elected by the UN General Assembly to a five-year term. In April 2010, the General Assembly re-elected Guterres to a second five-year term.


Refugeesare persons who have “a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, are outside their country of nationality/ habitual residence and are… unwilling or unable to avail themselves of the protection of that country”.

Asylum-seekers are persons who wish to be admitted into a country as refugees, or persons who are awaiting the determination of their refugee status by the authorities of an asylum country.

Stateless persons are not considered as nationals by any state under the operation of its law (de jure stateless). De facto stateless persons are persons aoutside the country of their nationality who are unable or, for valid reasons, unwilling to avail themselves of the protection of that country.

Returnees are former refugees who return voluntarily to their countries of origin, whether spontaneously or in an organized fashion.


The Russian Federation is a party to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol.  In 1993, the national law “On Refugees” was enacted.

UNHCR in the Russian Federation (RF) operates through its Representation in Moscow (since 1992), focusing its activities in the regions hosting most people of concern. Refugees and asylum seekers in urban environments, such as Moscow city and its immediate surroundings, and St. Petersburg, thus receive particular attention.Collaboration with a network of government and NGOs partners helps extend support and expertise partnerships to those regions of Russia where UNHCR cannot be present.

The primary goal of the UN Refugee Agency is to support and complement the efforts of the Government of the Russian Federation to develop a fair and effective asylum system in accordance with international standards, and prevent and reduce the  incidence of statelessness   implemented through  governmental and non-governmental partnership.

·      We support the development of an asylum system that meets international standards and ensures full and unhindered access to the asylum procedure and effective protection to asylum-seekers and refugees.

·      We identify and pursue appropriate durable solutions for refugees, notably local integration, voluntary repatriation, and, in consultations with and assistance by third countries, - resettlement.

·      We promote accession to the UN Statelessness Conventions and acquisition of citizenship by stateless persons.

·      We strengthen public information and public awareness and develop local fund raising capacities.

Working closely with the Federal Migration Service and reaching out to the judiciary, UNHCR strives to enhance national capacity by conducting capacity building events, provides legal expertise on draft laws, shares UNHCR’s policy guidance, position papers and country of origin information with the authorities and legal partners and disseminates best practices on refugee status determination in order to raise the effectiveness of the national Refugee Status Determination procedure and promote quality assurance measures.

UNHCR’s legal support to persons seeking international protection includes the strengthening of provision of state and non-state counselling services to individual asylum-seekers and stateless persons, andinterviews and assessments of cases referred to UNHCRfor compelling reasons. UNHCR plays an advisory role and supports asylum-seekers in assessing and pursuing their applications for asylum with FMS,in court litigations and appeal procedures.

UNHCR helps refugees return in safety and dignity to their countries of origin. Also, UNHCR supports the Russian Government in creating conducive conditions for return to the Russian Federation and provides returnees with the assistance and consultations. UNHCR disseminates information about rights of returnees, monitors their return, and participates in efforts aimed at ensuring successful reintegration. Some refugees, who cannot find effective protection in Russia and cannot return to their country of origin, may exceptionally obtain access to resettlement in a third country with the help of UNHCR.

UNHCR supports the creation of an environment favourable to integration by promoting NGO partnerships with federal/ regional governmental and NGO contribution to reception management.

Under UNHCR’s urban refugee policy and in line with the Comprehensive Solutions Strategy developed for urban refugees, UNHCR provides assistance to refugees to realize their right to state services, including medical insurance, access to education and labour rights. When required, UNHCR provides social and psychological counselling, basic medical care, and  and helps vulnerable refugees with placement in state or non-governmental shelter, acting directly or through partners. 

UNHCR advocates for comprehensive measures addressing statelessness in the Russian Federation through gaining a better and more accurate picture of the remaining magnitude or risk of statelessness and through lobbying and legal/legislative advisory work in support of the accession by the RF to the UN Statelessness Conventions. UNHCR directly and through its partners provides legal assistance to stateless persons and persons at risk of statelessness, and brings their cases to the attention of the authorities of the states concerned, including the Russian Federation.

Building on interagency Working Groups on Social Issues and Tolerance initiated in 2009 and long-standing media partnerships, UNHCR strives to address xenophobic tendencies and promote tolerance towards refugees and other persons of concern to the Agency through various public information and public awareness activities. These include the maintenance of the hotline, support of a radio program focusing on refugees and migration, contests, exhibitions and special events dedicated to the World Refugee Day and other commemorations. UNHCR participates in international film festivals on human rights and tolerance towards persons of concern to the Agency, and conducts workshops for journalists addressing migration and displacement issues.  


UNHCR’s counterparts in the Russian Federation are:

  • Federal, regional and municipal authorities, namely, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Federal Migration Service (FMS of Russia) and FMS territorial departments, EMERCOM, Office of the Ombudsman of the Russian Federation, municipalities of Moscow and St.Petersburg, Federal State Institution “State Judicial Office for the Chechen Republic;” the judiciary, various ministries and local administrative bodies;
  • other UN agencies and international institutions, notably, OHCHR, ILO, UNFPA, UNDSS, UNV;  International Organization for Migration, Council of Europe, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC),  Danish and Norwegian Refugee Councils;
  • local non-governmental organizations, such as Russian Red Cross, St.Petersburg Red Cross, St.Petersburg Centre for International Cooperation of the Red Cross, “Memorial” Human Rights Centre, “Civic Assistance” Committee, “Vesta” and “Nizam”, Association of Media Managers (ARS-Press), “Health and Life” Charitable Foundation, “Faith, Hope and Love”, Institute for Human Rights, The North Ossetian Regional Department of the All-Russian Public Organization ”Russian Association of Lawyers”; Children’s Fund of North Ossetia-Alania, RF Public Chamber, Federation of Migrants of Russia, etc.


UNHCR is almost entirely funded by direct, voluntary contributions - the bulk of it from donor nations, also from non-governmental organizations and the private sector, including corporations, trusts, foundations and individual citizens. There is also a small annual subsidy from the regular budget of the United Nations, which is used for administrative costs. The Government of the Russian Federation makes annual contributions to the UNHCR budget for funding operations in various regions of the world.  Information on how to donate to UNHCR is available at www.unhcr.org and www.unhcr.ru.


United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in the Russian Federation

Tel. +7 495 660 09 01Fax +7 495 660 09 04/06

Hotline +7 903 792 22 79

e-mail: RUSMO@unhcr.org