Canada and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

Established in 1950, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) leads and coordinates international action to protect people who are refugees, internally displaced and stateless, while searching for lasting solutions to their plight.

As an important contributor to the UNHCR, Canada has a long-standing relationship with the agency, which dates 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’s support for the UNHCR

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.

Canada's engagement with UNHCR focuses on five strategic objectives, which are as follows:

  1. help UNHCR find solutions for refugees and internally displaced persons, especially those in drawn-out refugee situations, including:
  2. ensure that the protection of women, children, and groups with specific needs remain a priority, with a special focus on preventing and responding to sexual and gender-based violence, sexual exploitation, and abuse
  3. support efforts to strengthen protection and assistance for refugees and internally displaced persons
  4. assist efforts to rapidly mobilize staff, equipment, and relief items to respond to humanitarian emergencies
  5. support UNHCR integrate evaluation findings and recommendations into the development of improved policies, strategies, and practices


In 2013, with the support of Canada and other donors, UNHCR provided assistance and protection for close to 43 million people in 126 countries. Below are some examples:

In Syria, close to 3.4 million internally displaced people were provided with relief items, and 991,000 people received access to health care, including mental health and psychological support.

In Jordan, UNHCR conducted 92,000 home visits to assess urban refugees’ living, social and economic conditions, following which it gave some 29,900 vulnerable families cash assistance to meet their daily needs.

In South Sudan:

In Pakistan, UNHCR provided primary education to approximately 96,000 refugee children, predominantly in refugee villages, through 174 schools, 53 satellite classes and 18 home-based girls’ schools.  Afghan refugees in 76 refugee villages accessed primary health care services, resulting in 91%  immunization coverage for children and 90% antenatal coverage.

In Colombia, UNHCR provided legal assistance to 18,324 internally displaced people. Of this number, 11,658 received advice on issues related to registration, humanitarian assistance and access to health and education services.

In Mali, eight information centres were established to provide internally displaced Malians who had lost their documentation with advice on how to apply for civil documentation. With this support, more than 1,900 people received national identity cards from government authorities

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