United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)


Street: Metropark Building, 8th Floor, 351 Schoeman Street, Pretoria
Postal: PO Box 12506, Tramshed 0126
tel: 27 12 338 5301
fax: 27 12 322 0216/0221


The Statute of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, detailing its functions and responsibilities, was embodied in resolution 428(V)(1950), and the Office came into being on 1 January 1951. The UNHCR reports annually to the UN General Assembly through the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). The mandate of the UNHCR is renewed every five years.

The work of the UNHCR is humanitarian and non-political. Its principal functions are to provide international protection to refugees, seek durable solutions to their plight and furnish them with material assistance. Protection involves preventing refoulement, (i.e the forcible return of the refugee to a country where he may have reason to fear persecution). In seeking durable solutions to refugees' problems, UNHCR attempts to help those who wish to go home to do so, and tries to assist them to reintegrate into their home communities. Where this is not feasible, assistance may be given in countries of asylum or, failing that, to resettle them in other countries. Material assistance is provided in the form of food, shelter, medical aid, education and other social services.

South Africa was elected in February 1997 to serve on the Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme. The membership is for an indefinite period, for as long as South Africa wishes to be a member. The Executive Committee determines the general policies under which the UNHCR plans, develops and administers refugee projects and programmes and advises the High Commissioner, on request, on the discharge of the duties under the Statute of the Office.

Membership is on the widest possible geographical basis from those states (members of the UN and others) with a demonstrated interest in, and devotion to, the solution of the refugee problem. There are currently 54 members.


Department of Home Affairs
Lawyers for Human Rights
Commission on Human Rights


UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees – 28 July 1951
UN Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees – 31 January 1967
South Africa acceded to the latter Convention/Protocol on 12 Janauary 1996
OAU Convention Governing Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa – 10 September 1969
South Africa signed the Instrument of Accession on 15 December 1995 (the Instrument of Accession was deposited on 15 January 1996)


South Africa has a direct input, through the Executive Committee (EXCOM), to the general policies under which the UNHCR plans, develops, and administers refugee projects and programmes. The EXCOM also administers the allocation of funds for projects and programmes and advises the High Commissioner.

The UNHCR assisted South Africa with –

the repatriation of Mozambican refugees as well as South African exiles who wished to return;
the drafting of the 1998 Refugee Act.
a campaign against Xenophobia in South Africa.

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2003 Department of Foreign Affairs, Republic of South Africa