United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees opened its representation in Vienna in 1951, the founding year of the United Nations refugee agency. UNHCR is therefore the longest serving UN organization in Austria. In 1979, the office moved to the new Vienna International Centre.
According to its Statute, the UNHCR is a humanitarian, non-political organization with two main tasks:
- Providing international legal protection to refugees
- Seeking permanent solutions to their problems
Austria has a long history of helping refugees fleeing from war, torture and persecution. Since 1945, more than two million refugees have come to Austria. Out of them, 700,000 have stayed.
In Austria the UNHCR primarily offered material help for refugees for many years but recently, the Organization started to provide legal protection for refugees and asylum seekers. UNHCR monitors the implementation of the relevant asylum laws in Austria according to the Geneva Refugee Convention and makes suggestions on refugee related questions to the authorities. It also works with Austrian non-governmental organizations (NGOs) dealing with refugees and asylum seekers. Additionally, UNHCR in Vienna maintains close relations with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). It also raises awareness for the refugee situation through public information, teaching materials and other publications. The representation in Vienna supports and co-finances an Austria-wide network of lawyers who give legal advice and assistance to refugees and asylum seekers. The Organizations itself intervenes directly only in difficult individual cases. It also provides training for government officials and refugee counselors.