The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was founded in 1950 and began operating on January 1, 1951, taking over from the International Refugee Organization. The UNHCR was mandated to assist people who had been uprooted from their homes during and after the Second World War.
Thanks tfo the adoption of the Convention on the Status of Refugees in July 1951, UNHCR was able to help refugees find safe havens and offer them the opportunity to rebuild their lives. Before the Convention, such people at most could apply to emigrate to another country. If they were refused, they had no recourse and no way of ensuring their own safety.
UNHCR's work is humanitarian and non-political. Its main functions are to offer refugees international protection, seek lasting solutions to their problems and provide them with material assistance in the form of food, shelter, medical assistance, education and other social services.
The High Commissioner seeks to help refugees wishing to return to their country of origin and become re-integrated into their communities. When this is unfeasible, UNHCR tries to assist them in their country of refuge or to find them a new host country.
The convention governing UNHCR's activities excludes, however, people guilty of crimes against peace, war crimes or crimes against humanity. Also excluded from any UNHCR assistance are people who have committed serious non-political crimes outside the country in which refuge is sought, as well as those who are guilty of acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the UN.
According to conservative estimates, there are currently over 8.4 million refugees within the meaning of the Convention on the Status of Refugees ("Convention refugees"). Canada is a prime destination for those seeking refuge and asylum. Since 1959, it is estimated that Canada has accepted over 852, 184 refugees from around the world. In recent years, however, Canada has tightened its admission criteria to allow only true Convention refugees.