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Welcome to UNHCR’s newest blog, from the UNHCR Records and Archives Section, a window into the history we hold, those we assist, and the challenges and rewards of recordkeeping in a humanitarian context.  

 UNHCR/Laura Bernier

Who are we? 

The Records and Archives Section is based in Geneva, Switzerland, but with a global responsibility for recordkeeping in UNHCR’s operations, with colleagues also in Panama City, Pretoria, Bangkok and Copenhagen to work with records creators and users in the field.  

Created in 1996, the award-winning section is responsible for making sure UNHCR’s recorded memory in all media, from the 1950s to the present day, is well organized, well secured, maintained in sustainable formats and environments. What for, you may ask? The simple answer: to make that knowledge accessible for consultation when required by UNHCR or its operational partners, so that information is available to inform responses to the challenges of refugees, displaced and stateless people, today and tomorrow.  

Furthermore, since 2000, the archives have also been made available to external researchers in accordance with UNHCR’s access to archives policy – to enable analysis and reflection on UNHCR’s real-life experience of responding to refugee emergencies and the pursuit of solutions for the forcibly displaced.

What are we for? 

As with all UNHCR colleagues, our role is to support UNHCR in its mandate to provide international protection and humanitarian assistance to those forced to flee. How can the archives be part of that equation? 

  • Maintaining and preserving individual case files of refugees;
  • Making lessons learned available for evidence-based policy and operational decision making;
  • Supporting advocacy, awareness and fundraising efforts with history-based content;
  • Helping create media output that is fact-checked, reliable and relevant;
  • Capturing crucial operational knowledge in sustainable recordkeeping environments before it is lost, damaged or corrupted;
  • Advice and training on records and archives management.

    What do we do? 

    Our Records Management programme guides and assists UNHCR’s global workforce with their physical and digital recordkeeping needs in headquarters, regional, country and field offices – in short, wherever UNHCR is working.

    Need to set up a digital repository or create an inventory? Need to digitize a records collection? Need to securely share content with other colleagues elsewhere in the world? Not sure what to keep and what to delete? The archivists help answer those questions, so that information is well organized, and the records of long-term importance are managed from the moment of creation.  

    Research and Access projects and services are in place to meet the demands for information from the archives from UNHCR’s global workforce, partners and the external research community at large. Creating and publishing catalogues of records, helping make kilometers of paper and terabytes of born-digital content navigable for research, digitizing content for colleagues in the field and conducting confidentiality reviews to allow records to be declassified for public research are all in a days’ work for our colleagues. 

    UNHCR’s Digital Preservation experts are the innovators of the Records and Archives Section, ensuring non-analogue records are protected against format obsolescence, media corruption and data obscurity. Digital Preservation practices ensure that records remain usable as technology evolves, preventing data loss and making digital content easily discoverable. We also capture UNHCR’s online content for long-term preservation, securing UNHCR’s digital knowledge-base for the future.

    The blog: what comes next? 

    With this blog, we hope to open a window into some of the activities undertaken by the Records and Archives Section, some of our ongoing projects, the fascinating finds we make when working with the archives and how UNHCR uses its experience to inform policy, solutions and strategic direction. Stay tuned… 

    Launched for International Archives Week 2024 #IAW2024.