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UNHCR in Europe

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What role does UNHCR play in Europe?

UNHCR works to safeguard the rights and well-being of refugees, asylum-seekers, stateless people and internally displaced persons by providing guidance and support to governments across Europe, collaborating closely with partners, and promoting the best international standards in legislation, policy and procedures.

As the custodian of the 1951 Refugee Convention, UNHCR supports efforts by governments and other stakeholders to ensure access to asylum and to international protection for refugees and asylum-seekers, as well as promoting durable solutions.  UNHCR works to strengthen partnerships with state and non-state actors in order to ensure the inclusion of refugees,  to garner support for both refugees and the communities hosting them, as well as enhancing joint advocacy efforts in the spirit of the Global Compact on Refugees.

With a Regional Bureau in Geneva, Switzerland, and office presence in 36 European countries, UNHCR is covering 49 States, including 27 EU Member States, and one territory in the Europe region.

 

Europe has a long history of offering sanctuary to refugees. The 1951 Refugee Convention was established as a response to the urgent needs of refugees generated by World War II. Since then, Europe has received people seeking asylum as they flee conflict, persecution and human rights violations. 

Apart from refugees, the mandate of UNHCR also includes asylum-seekers, stateless people and internally displaced persons. 

By the end of 2022, Europe, including Türkiye, hosted more than one-third (36 per cent) of all refugees globally. The number of refugees in European countries rose from 7 million at the end of 2021 to 12.4 million at the end of 2022, as millions of refugees from Ukraine sought safety in nearby countries.

With a Regional Bureau in Geneva, Switzerland, and office presence in 36 European countries, UNHCR is covering 49 States, including 27 EU Member States, and one territory in the region.

Below is information on how UNHCR carries out its mandate:

What role does UNHCR play in Europe?

As the custodian of the 1951 Refugee Convention, UNHCR works to safeguard the rights and well-being of refugees, asylum-seekers and stateless persons by providing guidance and support to governments across Europe and promoting the best international standards in legislation, policy and procedures.  

As part of these efforts, we forge and strengthen partnerships and coordination mechanisms to garner wide-ranging support from relevant stakeholders in the spirit of the Global Compact on Refugees, to enhance joint advocacy efforts, mobilize resources and counter negative discourse. 

UNHCR supports efforts by governments and other stakeholders to find solutions for refugees. We also promote safe and regulated avenues under which refugees can be admitted to a third country. These include community sponsorship programmes, family reunification, scholarships and humanitarian visas. 

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Ukraine emergency

The international armed conflict in Ukraine that escalated into a full-scale war in February 2022 has caused widespread destruction, loss of life and suffering. It also forced millions of people from their homes. In 2022, one-third of the country's population was forced to flee their homes as refugees abroad or internally displaced within the country, with more than 17 million in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. In light of the emergency and the scale of humanitarian needs of refugees from Ukraine, an inter-agency regional refugee response is underway to support the efforts of refugee-hosting countries. 

UNHCR is present in Ukraine and provides humanitarian assistance wherever necessary and possible. UNHCR has also greatly expanded its presence in areas of Ukraine and neighbouring countries where large numbers of people are arriving.

UNHCR coordinates the Regional Refugee Response Plan (RRP) for the Ukraine Situation. The RRP outlines the multi-sector response strategy of partners supporting the host governments of Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, the Republic of Moldova, Poland, Romania and Slovakia in providing assistance and protection to refugees from Ukraine. 

Read more about our work related to the Ukraine emergency here. Visit our Data Portal for more information on the Ukraine refugee situation.
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UNHCR advocates to end statelessness in Europe and globally by 2024, in line with the #IBelong campaign. At the same time, we are also calling for concerted European action to prevent loss of life in the Mediterranean and to improve the reception facilities and systems for asylum-seekers. 

We produce and publish statistics and data on refugees, asylum-seekers and stateless people and engage with the public to foster inclusiveness and empathy. 

UNHCR works closely with refugee-led and community-based organisations to better understand the issues facing people forced to flee and to include people we serve in decision-making concerning their life. 

What is the difference between a refugee, an asylum-seeker and a migrant?

People who are forced to flee their country in fear of persecution are refugees. They have legal protections under the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, as well as other legal instruments. UNHCR, governments and humanitarian organizations offer assistance to refugees, who are recognized by State authorities or UNHCR, because it is too dangerous for them to return home. Asylum-seekers are people whose request for refugee status, or asylum, is being processed. 

People who move to a different country primarily to improve their lives by finding work or gaining education, or to reunite with family, are known as migrants. 

This distinction is important. States interact with refugees through specific norms dealing with refugee protection and asylum defined in regional and international frameworks.

How many refugees have arrived in Europe?

According to UNHCR data, by the end of 2022, the number of people displaced across borders hosted in European countries was 12.4 million. This is an increase of more than 5 million compared to 2021, primarily resulting from the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, which started in February 2022 and has resulted in one of the largest human displacement crises globally.

Türkiye remained the largest refugee-hosting country worldwide, with 3.6 million refugees by end-2022. Germany is the second largest refugee-hosting country in the Europe region, hosting nearly 2.1 million refugees by the end of 2022.

See our Operational Data Portal for the Ukraine Refugee Situation for the latest numbers on refugee movements related to the Ukraine emergency.

For up-to-date numbers of people arriving in Europe via Mediterranean and Northwest African maritime routes, as well as the numbers of people who have died or gone missing after attempting to cross the sea, you can have a look at this interactive data page.  

You can find more statistics and data visualizations on the numbers of refugees and asylum-seekers in Europe on UNHCR’s data portal,  Eurostat, the EU’s statistical office, and in the latest Global Trends Report.

Are all refugees coming to Europe?

No. Nearly 76 per cent of the world’s refugees and Venezuelans displaced abroad were hosted by low- and middle-income countries as of the end of 2022, and 70 per cent were hosted in neighbouring countries. The Global Compact on Refugees emphasizes the importance of greater responsibility-sharing and solidarity with refugee-hosting countries and communities.

How many people are displaced within their own country in Europe?

By the end of 2022, the number of internally displaced people (IDPs) in Europe reached nearly 9 million, mainly in Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Bosnia, Georgia, Serbia and Kosovo - S/RES/1244 (1999) .

The international armed conflict in Ukraine has resulted in the displacement of millions within the country. Estimates of these populations are challenging due to the rapidly evolving situation. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) conducts randomized, representative telephone surveys to estimate the number of people displaced within Ukraine. As of 24 May 2023, there were an estimated more than 5.08 million IDPs in Ukraine.

Three refugee women, including one holding an infant, sit on a bench and are listening to a woman working for UNHCR.

Greece. Shirin (R), originally from Iran, who works as Gender-Based Violence Prevention Officer at NGO Diotima Centre, together with Hawanatu, Memunatu and Fatmata, GBV survivors and beneficiaries of the GBV Prevention and Response Programme - a “shield” for refugee and asylum-seeker women on Lesvos.

Where can I find statistics and information about refugees and asylum-seekers arriving in Europe?

UNHCR maintains a public database of statistics on refugees and asylum-seekers in Europe and around the world. It has also developed a mobile application for iOS and Android. Each year, we publish a Global Trends report, an authoritative overview of the world’s refugees, asylum-seekers, internally displaced people and stateless persons.

In addition, data on specific situations in Europe can be found on dedicated operational portals (UkraineMediterranean and South Eastern Europe).

Who are UNHCR’s partners in Europe?

As per its mandated responsibilities and in line with the Global Compact on Refugees, UNHCR engages with various stakeholders to pursue its protection and solutions priorities in Europe. These include governments, international organizations within and outside the UN system, other humanitarian and development actors, regional actors (notably the European Union and its agencies, the Council of Europe, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe), local authorities, municipalities, academia, the private sector, media and civil society. Refugees and other people with and for whom UNHCR works are key partners, and we have been strengthening our engagement with organizations led by refugees, other forcibly displaced and stateless people.

In collaboration with the International Council of Voluntary Agencies (ICVA), we organize regular regional dialogues and consultations with civil society actors to identify opportunities for joint and complementary advocacy.

We are also committed to supporting the realization of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals. In Europe, UNHCR is an integral part of the regional UN system and co-chairs the Issue-Based Coalition on Large Movements of People, Displacement and Resilience.

Following the establishment of the Global Academic Interdisciplinary Network (GAIN) at the first Global Refugee Forum held in December 2019, we founded a European chapter under the name EARIN, bringing together representatives from universities, academic and research institutions in Europe to advance the objectives of the Global Compact for Refugees.

In Europe, four of our offices are accredited to regional institutions (the Council of Europe, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the European Union Agency for Asylum, and Frontex).


 

How do I get in touch with UNHCR?

How do I locate a spokesperson who can tell me more about UNHCR’s work in Europe or the world?

Contact UNHCR spokespeople at our headquarters in Geneva or in many of our country offices worldwide for media enquiries and interviews.

If I am an asylum-seeker or refugee in Europe and need help or advice, what should I do?

You can use the help.unhcr.org page in some countries, or contact UNHCR or one of its partners directly in the country where you are.

If I want to work for UNHCR, what should I do?

You can find available job openings, internships and other opportunities on the careers page on UNHCR’s website and on the organization’s country-specific and regional websites. There are also opportunities to volunteer with UNHCR and its partner organizations.

How can I contribute to and support UNHCR’s work?

UNHCR relies almost entirely on voluntary contributions from governments, UN and pooled funding mechanisms, intergovernmental institutions and the private sector, as well as individual donations. We encourage these funds to be allocated as flexibly as possible to enable us to assist where the needs are the most acute by providing protection, shelter, water, health, education and other essential support to refugees, asylum-seekers, stateless persons and internally displaced people across the region. 

UNHCR’s website contains information on how to contribute financially. Donations can also be made to individual refugee-hosting countries through our private sector partnerships and also to specific emergencies. 

Stay informed with the latest reports and updates on UNHCR’s work in Europe

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