Government Donors

Northern Europe Government Donors

“The donations to UNHCR from the Northern European region provide crucial financial support during a time when the gap between humanitarian needs and resources continues to widen.”

UNHCR is almost entirely funded by voluntary contributions – the bulk of it from governments. The eight countries covered by the Regional Representation of Northern Europe represent one of the major UNHCR donor blocks and belong to UNHCR’s main partners and donors.

With a multiplication of large-scale emergencies and a dramatic growth in mass displacement from war and conflict, UNHCR’s annual budget has more than doubled over the past five years, reaching USD 7.1 billion in 2016, the largest budget ever. Total contributions to UNHCR in 2016 amounted to USD 3.9 billion, USD 500 million more than in 2015. However, the funds available could still only cover about half of the 2016 budgetary requirements leaving many of the needs of people of concern to UNHCR unmet. 57 % of UNHCR’s overall income in 2016 was provided by its top three donors and 79% by the top 10 donors, of which almost half of the Nordic countries belong.

The generous donations from the Northern European region are crucial for UNHCR to continue to provide protection, emergency relief and solutions to over 65 million people forced to flee their homes, including from conflicts in CAR, Iraq, Nigeria, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen, during a time when the gap between humanitarian needs and resources continues to widen. In 2016 the Northern Europe countries increased their support to UNHCR, contributing with USD 326.2 million altogether, accounting for approximately 10% of UNHCR´s global income. Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland are among UNHCR’s top donors, and largest donors of unrestricted contributions. In addition, contributions from Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland and Iceland are ranked as among the highest per capita and GDP worldwide. Almost all Northern Europe donors provide UNHCR with an unearmarked and predictable contribution at the beginning of the year. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are important donors in providing emergency support to UNHCR and have in the recent years increased their overall contributions to UNHCR.

Unearmarked Funding Essential

“Unearmarked funds enable UNHCR to save lives in several ongoing emergencies each year… and are also of vital importance to support operations that are not sufficiently funded in locations that attract little or no attention.”

The Northern European countries provide high levels of predictable, unearmarked and flexible funding. Almost all countries provide an unearmarked core contribution at the beginning of the year. Sweden is UNHCR’s largest donor of unearmarked funding, and Norway UNHCR’s third largest donor. This makes the Northern Europe donors particularly vital to UNHCR since their flexible funding allows UNHCR to deliver uninterrupted and immediate assistance where they are most needed through providing protection, shelter, water, education and health care to millions of refugees, asylum-seekers, stateless and internally displaced people in the direst humanitarian emergencies around the world.

The rise in forced displacement caused by an unprecedented number of emergencies in recent years has put considerable pressure on UNHCR’s human and financial resources. In these challenging times, UNHCR relies more than ever on early, predictable and unrestricted donor support to provide life-saving assistance and protection to rocketing numbers of people fleeing multiple crises across the world. Predictable funding is essential for the organization to plan, budget and implement operations in a timely and efficient manner. Without the flexibility provided by unrestricted funding, UNHCR’s 95% implementation rate would have been significantly reduced. Unrestricted contributions enable UNHCR to respond quickly to new emergencies. When an appeal is launched and earmarked funding begins to arrive, the unearmarked funding can then be redistributed and used in another operation. In this way, unearmarked funds enable UNHCR to save lives in several ongoing emergencies each year.

Unearmarked contributions are also of vital importance to support operations that are not sufficiently funded in locations that attract little or no attention, the often “forgotten or invisible situations”.

Key Terms

The Global Appeal

The Global Appeal includes information on UNHCR´s priorities and budget activities. The Global Appeal is usually released in December and presents the financial resources required for the coming year, in order to provide protection for refugees and other persons of concern to UNHCR. The distribution of the budgetary requirements is organized according to four pillars: refugee programmes; stateless programmes; reintegration projects and internally displaced people projects.

Supplementary Appeals

A Supplementary Appeal is UNHCR´s primary fundraising tool in new emergencies or situations not covered by UNHCR’s Annual Budget, as reflected in the Global Appeal. A Supplementary Appeal is released when unforeseen additional requirements exceed USD 10 million.

Refugee Response Plan

A Refugee Response Plan is a UNHCR-led, inter-agency planning and coordination tool which allows all partners to ensure a joint humanitarian response to a refugee emergency. A Refugee Response Plan is initiated in large-scale or complex emergencies and represents the inter-agency response strategy and financial needs of all partners.

Strategic Response Plan

A Strategic Response Plan – SRP is prepared for a protracted or sudden onset emergency that requires humanitarian assistance from more than one agency.

Global Report

The Global Report, published annually in June, offers a comprehensive view of UNHCR’s operations and achievements worldwide and is a vital means to informing donors how their money was spent. The report describes the efforts in the previous calendar year to improve the lives of the millions of people of concern to UNHCR, including subregional overviews and country chapters for all operations with a budget or expenditure of US$5 million or more. In addition, it profiles all governmental donors who have contributed US$100,000 or more in the year under review.


The Executive Committee of the High Commissioner´s Programme – ExCom was established by the UN´s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in 1958. ExCom consists of representatives from UN member states or members from any of the specialized agencies with “(…) devotion to, the solution of the refugee problem”. ExCom functions as a subsidiary organ to the General Assembly. The executive and advisor functions of ExCom includes advising the High Commissioner in the exercise of her/his functions; reviewing funds and programmes; authorizing the High Commissioner to make appeals for funds; approving proposed biennial budget targets. UNHCR holds one ExCom plenary session annually to review the work of the Standing Committee of the preceding year and establish the programme for the next 12 months.


The Inter-Agency Standing Committee – IASC is the primary mechanism for inter-agency coordination of humanitarian assistance.

Cluster Leadership Approach

The Cluster Leadership Approach aims at improving the effectiveness of humanitarian response and is part of the overall UN-led humanitarian reform process that was initiated in 2005. The Cluster Leadership Approach was adopted by the IASC as a mechanism that would address gaps identified in the humanitarian response and would enhance the quality of humanitarian actions by strengthening partnerships between UN agencies, the Red Cross movement, international organizations and NGOs. UNHCR has been designated the cluster lead for protection; emergency shelter; camp coordination and management, in situations of conflict-related internal displacement.


The Refugee Coordination ModelRCM reshapes UNHCR´s role in the context of a changed inter-agency and operating environment and reaffirms UNHCR’s mandate and accountability to the General Assembly and our authorized refugee leadership. The RCM outlines UNHCR’s role and responsibilities in refugee operations and mixed displacement situations; provides an inclusive platform for planning and coordinating refugee operations; clarifies modes of coordination in relation to broader humanitarian coordination structures, including the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) cluster system

L3 Emergency

UN agencies have their own internal classification of levels of emergency. In the context of the IASC, a Level 3 (L3) emergency would typically be a sudden-onset complex emergency requiring the activation of a UN system-wide response, with agreed mechanisms, tools and procedures.


Earmarking means that a donor limits or directs the purpose for which a contribution may be used.

Unearmarked contributions

Unearmarked or unrestricted contributions indicates that a donor does not put any restrictions on the allocation of its funding. Unearmarked contributions are important to UNHCR because they allow for flexibility enabling UNHCR to respond quickly to new emergencies during the year. Unearmarked contributions are also of vital importance to support operations that are not sufficiently funded in locations that attract little or no attention.

Regional earmarking

Regional/subregional earmarking is used for broadly earmarked contributions towards a region (e.g. Africa) or subregion (e.g. West Africa) and towards activities in Headquarters, Global Programmes and the Operational Reserve.

Country earmarking

Country earmarking refers to contributions that are earmarked for a specific country without any further restrictions on their use.

Thematic earmarking

Thematic earmarking is when contributions are earmarked for a specific theme at the sub-regional level or higher. Key themes are: protection policy; registration, profiling and documentation; security from sexual and gender-based violence – SGBV; child protection; basic health care; education; livelihoods; and durable solutions.

Sector earmarking

Sector earmarking means contributions are earmarked at the country, regional or global levels for specific sectors and/or activities. This includes all in-kind contributions and staff-related contributions.

Operational Reserve

The Operational Reserve is a reserve where a part of a government´s core contribution is set aside at UNHCR´s discretion to allocate when new and additional urgent needs erupt later during the same year.


Non-food items – NFI – or Core Relief Items – CRI – refers to the provision of materials and tools to refugees, internally displaced persons and persons of concern to UNHCR. These materials and tools can include items such as jerry cans, hygiene kits, blankets, kitchen sets, mattresses, stoves, quilts, plastic sheets


Water, Sanitation and Hygiene – WASH refers to the provision of water and sanitation services to forcibly displaced persons.

Results-Based Management

Results-Based ManagementRBM refers to a strategic framework UNHCR uses to show goals and measure the impact of UNHCR´s operations. UNHCR uses RBM to help ensure that all organizational processes support the achievement of the right results in terms of protection and solutions for persons of concern, as effectively and efficiently as possible.

Global Needs Assessment

UNHCR bases its budgetary planning on the requirements identified in the Global Needs Assessment – GNA. The GNA is an UNHCR assessment, assessing the comprehensive total needs of refugees and populations of concern worldwide, and the consequences of not meeting those needs. The GNA also includes an assessment of what can realistically be expected to be delivered in a given period, subject to the availability of funding.

Global Strategic Priorities

The Global Strategic Priorities – GSP are related to Result Based Management and reflects areas of critical concern within the context of the Global Needs Assessment. The GSP define priorities for our global operations and represent important areas for improving the lives and well-being of people of concern to UNHCR. The GSP are divided into two categories: one set of Operational GSP that apply to field operations; and another set which focuses on the Support and Management functions provided by the Headquarters divisions. The GSP focus on areas such as gender, child protection and self-reliance.


Focus is UNHCR´s results-based software used to support the planning, monitoring and reporting of its operations.

Global Focus

Global Focus is UNHCR’s main operational information portal for donors and other key partners open to the public. It provides an overview of the protection risks that refugees and other people of concern to UNHCR face across the world; region & country operation plans and reports; the results and impact of UNHCR’s programmes; the organization’s global financial requirements; and donor contributions for operations.

Good Humanitarian Donorship Principles

The Good Humanitarian Donorship Principles – GHD principles outlines 23 principles and practices for donor governments aimed at improving the quality and effectiveness of their humanitarian assistance. The adoption of the GHD principles in 2003 by donor governments was a major step forward in promoting greater transparency, accountability and improved coordination amongst donors.

Solutions Alliance

One of UNHCR’s main efforts is to find solutions for people of concern as the organization seeks to ensure the inclusion of refugees, IDPs, returnees and stateless people in national development plans. This approach not only supports the sustainability of the response, but also builds the capacity of relevant national services to meet the specific needs of both people of concern and host communities. In 2014, UNHCR and global partners established the Solutions Alliance, a network committed to supporting innovative and comprehensive approaches to solutions and to building greater cooperation between humanitarian and development actors, civil society and host governments in the search for solutions. Thematic groups, focusing on data management and research, the rule of law, and working with the private sector, aim to fill gaps in joint planning and activities.

Seeds for Solutions

To find durable solutions for all populations of concern, UNHCR is testing multi-year solutions strategies in the field through the “Seeds for Solutions” initiative, supporting longer-term comprehensive solutions plans with a wide range of partners. UNHCR is also increasingly linking its work on solutions to broader development programmes. Close partnerships with governments and with development actors are critical to solving existing situations and to preventing future emergencies from becoming protracted.

Grand Bargain

The report of the High-level Panel on Humanitarian Financing launched in January 2016 responds to the ever-widening gap between the increasing humanitarian needs and the resources available to address them. The “Grand Bargain,” which is proposed in the report, advocates for: more efficient, transparent and effective humanitarian financing; greater flexibility in funding; harmonized reporting requirements among the donor community. UNHCR fully subscribes to the Grand Bargain’s call for putting people at the center of humanitarian reform; closer collaboration between agencies and donors to gain greater efficiency; greater flexibility by donors and greater transparency by agencies.

Key Government Donor Documents

UNHCR’s primary purpose is to safeguard the rights and well-being of refugees. In its efforts to achieve this objective, the Office strives to ensure that everyone can exercise the right to seek asylum and find safe refuge in another State, and to return home voluntarily. By assisting refugees to return to their own country or to settle permanently in another country, UNHCR also seeks lasting solutions to their plight.

To the website

Global Focus is UNHCR’s main operational reporting portal for donors and other key partners. This site provides an overview of the protection risks that refugees and other populations of concern to UNHCR face across the world, as well as regularly updated information about the organization’s programmes, operations, financial requirements, funding levels and donor contributions.

To the website

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