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The Head of the Irish office of United Nations High Commission for Refugees, Sophie Magennis, spoke to members on 23 rd January in Buswells Hotel about the work of her organisations.

She outlined how the 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. It strives to ensure that everyone can exercise the right to seek asylum and find safe refuge in another State, with the option to return home voluntarily, integrate locally or to resettle in a third country. It also has a mandate to help stateless people.

The budget has grown from US$300,000 in its first year to more than US$5.3 billion in 2013. From only 34 staff members when UNHCR was founded, a UNHCR staff of over 7,000 now deals with 42.9 million people of concern to UNHCR in more than 123 countries, including:

– 23.9 million internally displaced people
– 11.7 million refugees,
– over 5 million returnees,
– 3.5 million stateless people
– and close to one million asylum seekers.

There are also another 1.3 million people of concern to UNHCR that the agency works with.

UNHCR in Ireland

UNHCR Ireland works to safeguard the rights and well being of refugees, asylum seekers and stateless people in Ireland through the provision of guidance, training and support to the authorities and the promotion of best international standards in legislation, policy and procedures.

UNHCR’s supervisory role in relation to compliance with the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees is recognised in national legislation (the Refugee Act, 1996). The office also handles cases in which refugees, asylum seekers and stateless persons are in need of assistance, support and advice.

To promote durable solutions UNHCR provides assistance to the Irish Government’s resettlement programme, undertakes initiatives aimed at promoting integration and raises awareness of issues affecting those who come under UNHCR’s mandate.