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Fund-Raising FAQs

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As potential donors and supporters, you will probably want to have the answers to some basic questions about us and our work as well as where and how your money will be used. The following will help you to make an informed decision, but we are happy to tell you more about UNHCR.

What is UNHCR?

The UN refugee agency is formally known as the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Established in 1951, we are responsible for helping refugees in more than 100 countries. UNHCR has a specific mandate to protect and assist refugees worldwide. We also help stateless people and millions of people displaced within their countries.

When people are forced to flee their homes because of war or persecution, they turn to UNHCR for assistance. We offer them food, shelter, water, medical attention, sanitation and security, while working to find lasting solutions to their plight. When possible, we help refugees and other displaced people return home voluntarily and safely. If necessary, we help them settle in another country where they can start a new life.

UNHCR is non-political and we help all refugees, regardless of race, religion, political opinion or gender. We focus on their humanitarian needs and rights, especially those of women and children.

Who is a refugee?

The 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees defines a refugee as "a person who, owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country."

How many people does UNHCR care for?

At the end of 2008, the number of people of concern to UNHCR stood at 34.4 million. These included 10.5 million refugees, 2 million returnees to their homes, 838,000 asylum seekers, 14.4 million internally displaced people and 6.6 million stateless people. Over half of these are women and children.

UNHCR operates in more than 110 countries. We are active in nearly all refugee situations and crises worldwide. From Colombia to Kenya and from Iraq to Afghanistan, UNHCR is there to help uprooted people. We provide basic services, offer legal protection, and work to develop lasting solutions for refugees and other displaced people.

What is the breakdown of UNHCR's budget?

UNHCR's annual budget is revised every year. Voluntary contributions from governments, foundations, corporations and generous people like you accounted for about 97 percent of our total budget. Some 2-3 percent comes from the UN regular budget. As needs continue to grow, UNHCR is seeking greater support from individual donors, corporations and foundations. For more information please download our Annual Report for private donors.

How much is spent on refugee programmes versus overhead?

UNHCR's administrative costs account for approximately 10 percent of the total budget. Nearly 90 percent of all funds are spent on services directly helping refugees. More than 80 percent of our staff work in the field. Fund-raising, public awareness and advocacy costs represent only 1 percent of UNHCR's total budget. For the budget breakdown in any given year please download our Annual Report for private donors.

How is this money used to help refugees?

All of our programmes are designed to help find lasting solutions to refugees' problems, whether it's helping them return home or settle in other countries. The agency's work around the world falls under these main sectors: shelter, health care and nutrition, income generation, water and sanitation, education, legal assistance and protection.

All programmes and sectoral projects are intended to mitigate the harsh circumstances in which refugees find themselves and to create opportunities to re-establish their lives. Special focus is given to the most vulnerable, especially women, children, older people and those living with disabilities.

For detailed country-by-country information on global programmes, see the UNHCR Global Appeal.

Does UNHCR work with partners?

The work we do would be impossible without extensive cooperation with our partners in the field. UNHCR works with more than 600 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and with many other intergovernmental and UN agencies to deliver services directly to refugees. We also work closely with governments to support safe and respectful asylum policies, to negotiate refugee camp locations and security, and to guarantee safety for refugees upon their return home. For more information please visit our Partners pages.

How can I learn more?

We would be pleased to provide you with additional information or answer any questions you may have. You can also register to receive UNHCR's regular electronic e-newsletters and alerts.