UN Sister Organizations

As humanitarian crises have become more and more complex, UNHCR has expanded both the number and type of organizations it works with. We work closely with sister UN agencies, whose work complements or converges with ours.

Most important among these are the World Food Programme (WFP), the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), the World Health Organization (WHO), the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).

UNHCR is also committed to working closer with other agencies through the "Delivering as One" initiative, which aims at improving cooperative UN action in the areas of areas of development, humanitarian assistance and the environment. Additionally, we have embraced the so-called "cluster approach" to IDP (internally displaced people) emergencies, whereby different agencies take the lead in their area of expertise while working together to help those in need. UNHCR takes the lead for protection and shelter needs, and camp coordination and management.

Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS

UNAIDS, or the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, brings together the expertise and resources of 10 UN co-sponsor organizations, including UNHCR, to help the world prevent new HIV infections, care for those living with HIV and mitigate the impact of the AIDS epidemic.

In helping mount and support an expanded response to HIV, the UNAIDS Secretariat, working in more than 80 countries, has five key focus areas aimed at achieving this goal:

  • Mobilizing leadership and advocacy for effective action on the epidemic.
  • Providing strategic information and policies to guide efforts in the AIDS response worldwide.
  • Tracking, monitoring and evaluating the epidemic.
  • Engaging civil society and developing partnerships.
  • Mobilizing financial, human and technical resources to support an effective response.

UNAIDS also sees the need for the co-sponsors at country level to work closely together, with the heads of these sister agencies promoting a joint political voice to challenge HIV.

UNAIDS and UNHCR are committed to greater collaboration, building on a relationship of mutual support, exchange of ideas, sharing of expertise and furthering of a fruitful partnership. They have been collaborating on scaling up HIV prevention, treatment, care and support interventions for forcibly displaced people. They are also working together, along with other partners, on developing guidance and tools for addressing HIV in humanitarian crises.

Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

Established in 1991 as an entity within the United Nations Secretariat, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) supports mobilization, funding and coordination of humanitarian action in response to complex emergencies and natural disasters.

OCHA is headed by the Emergency Relief Coordinator (ERC). The ERC oversees the coordination of UN humanitarian assistance for complex emergencies and natural disasters. The ERC also acts as the central focal point for governmental, intergovernmental and non-governmental relief activities.

The relationship between UNHCR and OCHA goes back to the early 1990s and is extremely broad, ranging from engagement in the UN's cluster approach for internal displacement crises to establishing common mechanisms of humanitarian coordination.

UN system-wide reform of the past decade has seen the development of the cluster approach, as well as new tools for humanitarian financing. These pillars of reform have enabled UNHCR, OCHA and their humanitarian partners to develop closer coordination relationships, both at the field and global level.

However, it is primarily through the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC), the mechanism for determining inter-agency coordination, that UNHCR and OCHA interface – creating and developing products on which IASC members rely on for normative and practical guidance in areas such as needs assessment; information management; early warning and preparedness; gender and humanitarian action; and common advocacy efforts.

OCHA also manages the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) – a pooled funding mechanism for UN humanitarian agencies to draw upon. UNHCR is able to access this fund for its country level operations.

Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is the principal UN organization mandated to promote and protect human rights for all. To this end, it focuses on three main areas: standard setting, monitoring and implementation on the ground.

The Geneva-based office is headed by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, currently Navi Pillay of South Africa. OHCHR also acts as a secretariat for the three other components of the UN human rights system: the Human Rights Council; some 40 independent UN human rights experts; and the committees that monitor implementation of the core international human rights treaties.

UNHCR is responsible for integrating human rights into all areas of its work. It thus works closely with the OHCHR, both in Geneva and the field, to ensure that the forcibly displaced, stateless and others of concerns to UNHCR have full access to their human rights, regardless of their situation.

Specifically, UNHCR looks to the OHCHR for expertise on how to integrate human rights into its work in practice, including how to conduct human rights-based programming. We also encourage the OHCHR to systematically include people of concern into its standard setting, monitoring and field implementation activities.

UNHCR coordinates advocacy efforts with OHCHR. It sometimes conducts joint advocacy for groups or individuals of concern to both organizations, especially in countries where the human rights organization is present.

The sister organizations conduct joint training of government officials, civil society personnel and individual rights holders, as well as complementary or joint interventions for individual cases.

UN Development Programme

UNDP is the UN's global development network, an organization advocating for change and connecting countries to knowledge, experience and resources to help people build a better life. UNDP is on the ground in 166 countries, working with them on their own solutions to global and national development challenges. As countries develop local capacity, they draw on the people of UNDP and our wide range of partners.

United Nations Population Fund

Founded in 1969, the UN Population Fund is the largest international source of population assistance. Almost one-quarter of all funds to developing countries are channelled through the organisation which works in three main areas: reproductive health issues for both men and women, including family planning; population and development; and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases such as AIDS.

It signed a cooperative agreement with UNHCR on June 30, 1995, to help assess the reproductive health needs of refugees; advocate measures to prevent and provide protection from sexual violence; and integrate information on AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases in UNHCR's health services.

The two agencies also co-operate in counselling adolescents about sexually transmitted diseases and reproductive health.

UN Children's Fund

The UN Children's Fund, UNICEF, is the world's leading advocate for children's rights. Set up in 1946 to provide emergency food and health care to children in countries that had been devastated by World War II, UNICEF has helped millions of vulnerable children and mothers around the world.

The New York-based organization, which won the 1965 Nobel Peace Prize, works in almost 200 countries around the world. Today, UNICEF provides humanitarian and developmental assistance to vulnerable children and mothers. It focuses on five key areas: child survival and development; basic education and gender equality; child protection; children living with HIV/AIDs; and policy advocacy and partnerships for children's rights.

Millions of the world's forcibly displaced people are children, which means that UNHCR and UNICEF are natural partners. In 1996, they signed a memorandum of understanding, which underpins their relationship.

The sister agencies work together around the world, in protracted refugee situations as well as emergencies. They promote protection, health care and education rights of displaced children, including refugees, the internally displaced and the stateless.

The two organizations work particularly closely in water and sanitation, child protection, and education projects. As example of the latter, UNHCR and UNICEF in 2007 launched a joint appeal for funds to ensure that tens of thousands of Iraqi refugee children in Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon could go to school.

World Food Programme

The World Food Programme (WFP) is the frontline UN agency in the fight against global hunger, responsible for distributing food to millions of needy people, including refugees, internally displaced people and returnees. In emergencies, it takes food to where it is needed, saving the lives of victims of war, civil conflict and natural disasters.

World Health Organization

The World Health Organisation (WHO) is the principal directing and co-ordinating authority within the UN system on international health work.

WHO is mandated to prevent and eradicate epidemics and to improve the nutritional, sanitary, hygienic and environmental conditions of people around the world. It also provides emergency medical aid at the request of governments and provides services and facilities to groups with special needs.

United Nations Volunteers

The United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme promotes voluntary service to support peace and development worldwide. UNV is inspired by the conviction that volunteerism can transform the pace and nature of development and by the idea that everyone can contribute their time and energy towards peace and development. With partners such as UNHCR, UNV advocates for voluntary service, integrates it into development planning and mobilizes volunteers.

Based in Bonn, Germany and established in 1970, UNV is administered by the UN Development Programme. Every year, UNV mobilizes more than 7,500 volunteers for development projects and operates a special service to connect development organizations with volunteers worldwide through the internet. Volunteers are skilled professionals with at least two years of working experience. They work in more than 130 countries and 80 per cent come from developing countries.

Around 1,000 UN Volunteers now work with UNHCR every year. Volunteers have worked as part of the UNHCR team in numerous operations, including Afghanistan, the Balkans, Colombia, Ecuador, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Sri Lanka and Timor-Leste.

In December 2000, UNHCR's 50th anniversary year, former High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata presented the prestigious Nansen Refugee Award to UNV in recognition of services to refugees.

In 2011, UNV marked the 10th anniversary of the International Year of Volunteers, reinvigorating and promoting the spirit of volunteerism. UNV also used the year to highlight the vital role played by all volunteers and the contribution they make to helping UNHCR achieve its mandate.

For information on serving in countries other than your own as an international UN Volunteer, go to register to be a UN Volunteer. For information about how to become an online volunteer and about the UNV Online Volunteering service, visit the Online Volunteering service website.