Putting Our Work into Focus
A picture tells a thousand words - and UNHCR has more than 250,000 of them dating back decades. The agency's photo library in Geneva is guardian of the world's largest collection of refugee-related photos covering nearly all of the major displacements of the last 60 years. These images provide a comprehensive portrait of the lives of refugees, asylum seekers, internally displaced people and the stateless in all corners of the globe, as well as the work of the thousands of UN staff who have helped them. Many of our best photos are showcased on this website and on the social networking site, Flickr. We offer the use of our photos free to the media.
Malaysia: Refugees helping themselves
Many Malaysians are astonished to learn that there are refugees living in their country. That's how invisible most of the 67,800 refugees in Malaysian towns and cities are. They don't live in camps, but in low-cost flats and houses alongside the homes of Malaysians. The refugees, overwhelmingly from Myanmar, live in tight-knit groups with as many as 20 or 30 people in one small flat.
As in many other Asian countries, even official UNHCR refugee status does not always afford adequate protection. Refugees are not allowed to work legally, so are subject to exploitation in dirty, dangerous and difficult jobs that locals do not want.
More than in many other countries, refugees in Malaysia have banded together to help themselves in the absence of official services. UNHCR, non-governmental organizations and volunteers support these initiatives, which include small crafts businesses, as well as schools and clinics, but they are largely driven by the refugees themselves.
Climate change and displacement
In the past few years, millions of people have been displaced by natural disasters, most of which are considered to be the direct result of climate change. Sudden weather events, such as Myanmar's Cyclone Nargis in 2008, widespread flooding in Kenya's Dadaab refugee camps in 2006 and the drought that hit Ethiopia in the 1980s, can leave huge numbers of people traumatized and without access to shelter, clean water and basic supplies.
The international community has entrusted UNHCR with responsibility for protecting and assisting people who are forcibly displaced and who cannot return safely home. Although the majority of people displaced by climate change will remain within their own borders, where states have clearly defined responsibilities, additional support may be required.
When called upon to intervene, UNHCR can deploy emergency teams and provide concrete support in terms of registration, documentation, family reunification and the provision of shelter, basic hygiene and nutrition.
Among those who are displaced across borders as a result of climate change, some will be refugees while others may not meet the definition. Nevertheless, many may be in need of protection and assistance.
Colombia: A struggle for rights
Overlooked by the rest of the world, decades of violent internal conflict have forced more than 3.5 million Colombians from their homes, with more fleeing nearly every day. Some seek shelter overseas, but about 80 percent head for urban centres within the country.
For most, towns and cities represent much-prized safety after seeing loved ones killed, or rescuing their children from threats of forced conscription. But the places where they can afford to live are usually the poorest barrios - located on a landslide-prone cliff or, perhaps, a flood-plagued beachfront.
Rural people and farmers also often find it a challenge to make a living in a town or city. Instead of growing plantains and catching fish, they now have to somehow earn enough money every day to feed their families.
Traumas also follow displaced Colombians. Formerly independent women used to working or staying alone now need to have others around constantly.
UNHCR is working with the Colombian government to make services available to forcibly displaced people. An important first step is a long-standing collaboration under which more than 3 million displaced Colombians have received identity cards.
South Africa: Searching for Coexistence
South Africa is one of the few countries in Africa where registered refugees and asylum-seekers can legally move about freely, access social services and compete with locals for jobs.
But while these right are enshrined in law, in practice they are sometimes ignored and refugees and asylum-seekers often find themselves turned away by employers or competing with the poorest locals for the worst jobs - especially in the last few years, as millions have fled political and economic woes in countries like Zimbabwe. The global economic downturn has not helped.
Over the last decade, when times turned tough, refugees in towns and cities sometimes became the target of the frustrations of locals. In May 2008, xenophobic violence erupted in Johannesburg and quickly spread to other parts of the country, killing more than 60 people and displacing about 100,000 others.
In Atteridgeville, on the edge of the capital city of Pretoria - and site of some of the worst violence - South African and Somali traders, assisted by UNHCR, negotiated a detailed agreement to settle the original trade dispute that led to the torching of Somali-run shops. The UN refugee agency also supports work by the Nelson Mandela Foundation to counter xenophobia.
"Do You See What I See?" Exploring the words and photographs of refugee children
For more than a year, a collection of startling photographs taken by refugee children in Namibia and Yemen has been travelling the world, giving a glimpse into the lives and thoughts of people whose lives have been thrown into turmoil at such a young age.
Professional photographer Brendan Bannon conducted the "Do You See What I See" project for the UN refugee agency in Yemen's Kharaz Refugee Camp and Namibia's Osire Refugee Camp.
He ran a series of intensive two-week photo workshops for a dozen children in each camp. Bannon guided them through a series of exercises that focused on the self, the community, the family and dreams. Here are some of the amazing results.
"What emerges in these pictures is a commentary on humanity - proposing what to them is love, what is suffering, what is funny, what can be discovered about self, family, history and community: What makes us alike and what makes us different," Bannon wrote.
A travelling photo exhibition was put together and has been seen by thousands of people around the world. It is now showing at the United Nations in New York, but the photo exhibition has never been shown on UNHCR's website before.