Archives and Records
The archive occupies about 10 kilometres of shelving space on two basement floors in Geneva. Digital archives, comprising some 10 million documents and growing, are stored and managed on a handful of dedicated, secure servers.
Materials of historical interest make up about half of the paper archives. The rest, mostly internal documents such as financial reports, is held for several years before being discarded. Digital archives, such as email messages and reports, are also sorted for permanent or short-term preservation.
The collections are globally and historically unique in scope and content. They contain a trove of detail about important historical events, including, for example, records from the 1956 Hungarian uprising, the first major emergency in which we became operational, as well as emergencies in Chile and Argentina in the 1970s, and in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. They contain originals, for instance, of the letter sent by the late Tunisian leader, Habib Bourguiba, seeking international help for refugees fleeing the conflict in neighbouring Algeria in 1957 – the first plea to UNHCR for help by a country outside Europe. UNHCR is working to bring more material back from the field and to implement state-of-the-art systems for the preservation of digital materials in order to make them more accessible.
The material is used both by staff and by outside researchers. Records of intractable situations where UNHCR has been working for decades, such as southern Sudan, are drawn on to brief staff as they head out into the field. By opening its archives to the public, we demonstrate a commitment to transparency regarding our role as a humanitarian agency, and promote scrutiny and understanding of the troubled contemporary history of our world.
The Archive Holdings
Our archives contain information from the founding of the organisation in 1950 to the present day. They also hold several pre-UNHCR collections, which provide valuable background to the development of protection work.
The archives are organized into "fonds", which are groups of records from a single office or a donation of records from outside UNHCR. The list of fonds is constantly expanding, as records are received from field offices and headquarters.
The UNHCR Archives Access Policy opens research files that are more than 20 years old. Before research is possible, UNHCR must review each file to ensure there is no risk of releasing personal information related to refugees or to other people of concern to UNHCR.
UNHCR Archives Access and Research Policy
If you wish to use our archives, please refer to the online catalogue. In case you do not find the information you are looking for, please email us. When you have identified all the information you would like to review, fill in the Document Request form – indicating the material you wish to see in order of priority – and the Research Application form, and send both to UNHCR Archives with proposed dates of research, giving at least two weeks' notice. Upon receipt, the Archives department will review the request and arrange an appointment.
The UNHCR Archives are located in our headquarters at 94 Rue de Montbrillant, CH-1202 Geneva, Switzerland. Research facilities are open Monday to Friday from 09:00 to 13:00. Please consult the Research Room Regulations before your visit. For more information, write to us in Geneva or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Archives and Records - Useful links
- UNOG Library and Archives
- UN Archives and Records Management Section
- International Tracing Service
- Archives of the IRO in the French National Archives
Telephone: +41 22 739 81 11
Address: 94 Rue de Montbrillant
1202 Geneva, Switzerland