The UNHCR was founded in 1950, in the wake of World War II, to help Europeans displaced by that conflict. The agency was given a three-year mandate to complete its work and then disband.
By 1956, UNHCR was facing its first major emergency, the outflow of refugees when Soviet forces crushed the Hungarian Revolution. It soon became apparent that UNHCR had a long future. In the 1960s, the decolonization of Africa produced the first of that continent's numerous refugee crises needing UNHCR intervention. Over the following two decades, UNHCR helped with displacement crises in Asia and Latin America. By the end of the century there were fresh refugee problems in Africa and, turning full circle, new waves of refugees in Europe from the series of wars in the Balkans.
The start of the 21st Century has seen UNHCR helping with major refugee crises in Africa, such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Somalia, and in Asia, especially the 30-year-old Afghan refugee problem. At the same time, UNHCR has been asked to use its expertise to help many people internally displaced by conflict. It has also expanded its role in helping stateless people, a largely overlooked group numbering millions of people in danger of being denied basic rights because they do not have any citizenship.
We will soon be celebrating our 60th anniversary, and we are aware that the refugee crisis we exist to solve is unlikely to disappear in the near future.