Sample Essay on United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR)


Peace and stability concerns have become global challenges facing the world today. This has reached a point that even the international organizations established to assist in enhancing global efforts are becoming overwhelmed with several philosophies rather than authenticities. The United Nations Commission of Human Rights (UNCHR) is a United Nation body that was established to address different needs of the growing number of refugees globally. In its operation, the UNCHR like other international organizations has faced several ethical challenges that undermine the social justice aspect that they are supposed to stand for. This final project is a research work that demonstrates some of the ethical and social justice issues within the UNHCR systems in its role of establishing a peaceful and supportive environment for the refugees. In this report, a close consideration is put on the administration of the UNHCR organ and refugee camps to understand the challenges that confront the entity clearly. Among the deep concepts that this paper focuses on are aspects of human rights, equality, abuse and discrimination, which have led to a global debate. The paper presents different ethical challenges that undermine the objectives of the UNHCR with many cases presented being in Kenya, which is one of the nations in Easter part of Africa that have experienced a massive inflow of refugees from war torn nations of Somalia and Southern Sudan. Kenya hosts one of the largest refugee camps in the world, Dadaab

United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR)


The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is an office that was created in December 1950 by Resolution 428(V) of the United Nations General Assembly and was operational on 1 January 1951 (Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 2003). UNHCR entails a benevolent political free organization that is dedicated to protecting and assisting refugees. Refugees comprise individuals who have been forced to leave their home nations because of war and calamities among other factors. The refugees do not rely on their own governments for legal protection, an element that clearly differentiates refugees from other migrants.

As a result of the refugees’ inaccessibility to the legal and social protection that needs to be provided by a stable functioning government to all its citizens, the international community is mandated to make special provisions in a rejoinder to their specific predicament. Initially, the League of Nations was mandated to establish successive organizations and agreements that handled the refugee situations whenever they arose. According to the League, refugees were described in terms of explicit clusters that were in a great danger in case they were to go back to their home nations (Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 2003). Nonetheless, as the number of refugees continued to spring up across the world, different challenges were encountered in terms of identity papers, travel documents and ways of protecting refugees.

After the United Nations disbanded the League of Nations in 1945, it was acknowledged that the concern of meeting the needs of refugees was a global matter that all nations needed to be involved. In a General Assembly meeting held in 1964, a resolution was adopted, which provided a basis for the United Nations activities that favored refugees. According to the resolution, refugees were exempted from being forced to return to their home nations with valid reasons, particularly safety reasons. Furthermore, The United Nations also created the International Refugee Organization (IRO) whose main objective was to protect the refugee groups acknowledged by the League of Nations. Following the World War II, other millions of refugees were scattered all over Europe. Later on, the IRO was replaced by the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in 1951 whose main objective was to safeguard refugees and enhance durable solutions to their problems.

Nonetheless, due to increased number of refugee in several nations, the UNHCR has assimilated extra responsibilities of managing material aid for refugees, returnees and in some instances the displaced persons. Despite the fact that this process has not been mentioned in the UNHCR Statute, it has become one of the prime roles of the entity besides fortification and promotion of resilient solutions. Generally, UNHCR’s resources are devoted to supporting processes at the field level aimed at addressing the needs of explicit groups, for instance, refugees, internally displaced persons (IDPs), and asylum seekers. Furthermore, UNHCR offers benevolent aid in several forms, such as food and alimentary supplements, elementary shelter, first aid, money assistance and legal services (Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 2003). The organization also plays a significant role in repatriation and re-integration of the individuals who are willing to return to their homes and relocates the unwilling ones. UNHCR operations are also supported by other organizations in helping to meet the needs of the refugees. The main role of UNCHR is protecting and advocating for the needs of refugees. However, there have been several concerns about the ethical challenges that these organizations encounter, primarily in the refugee camps and those emanating from the organization administration. These challenges have undermined the social justice, rights, and freedoms of many people.


Brief Description of the Ethical/Social Justice Issue

The UNHCR seeks to provide benevolent support and protection to refugees out of their nations. The organization undertakes this responsibility through the provision of needs and other support through strict adherence to the indispensable standards of international standards, human rights, liberty and social justice and equality. However, many refugee camps supported by UNHCR entail spaces that elements of human rights are deferred. In normal instances, refugee camps have turned out to be places where the state of exclusion has become the state of routine. Despite the fact the UNHCR aims at creating a bigger sovereignty in the camps through establishment of refugee committees on aspects like women’s rights, security, and anti-rape, the communities feel less powered or involved as a result of discrimination. Therefore, their opinions are hardly incorporated in policy discussion (Crisp, 2000).

Nonetheless, the UNHCR has established fundamental rules and regulations in the new refugee camps aimed at reducing the prospect of violence and other social injustices. Conventionally, the refugee organization has always acknowledged the fact that overpopulation and distance from the border exposes the camps to violence and other social injustices. This enhanced the formation of guidelines encouraging camps to be established at least 50 kilometers from the border of war torn nations and accommodating not more than 20,000 refugees (Jastram & Achiron, 2001).). Nonetheless, according to recent studies that have been conducted, these two features have not been effective in controlling the rate of violence and other social injustices in refugee camps. Another crucial factor that is significant regarding ethical issues and social injustices in refugee camps is the manner in which UNHCR governs the camps regarding their age and preceding ethical issues and social injustices figures in a given area. According to research, it is apparent that longer-lasting camps are more likely to support rebel groups. This is because the populations in the camps feel that they do not receive adequate support from the host nation or the international community (Song, 2012). This implies that if there are still high rates of crime or war in the region, they are more focused near or in the refugee camps because of the vulnerable populations in the camps to commit injustices, particularly women to rape, among other social injustices. (Crisp, 2000).

The most underlying unethical issue that the UNHCR encounters in the refugee camp in dealing with unethical and social injustice elements is the weakness in camp administration, which is the failed system of justice. Many of the committers of criminal acts within the refugee camps are not held responsible or punished because of several reasons. One of the main reasons the culprits are not punished is the social organization and culture of the populations in the refugee camps. Many refugees believe that the law is not applicable in their life situations because their lives and current conditions are as a result of lawlessness and other forms of injustices that arise from failed justice that have seen them undergo serious social injustices like rape, assault and discrimination among others (Crisp, 2000).

Additionally, the law enforcing organs like the police force are often incompetent in the refugee camps. Many officers in most cases are individuals who have been pulled a distance away from their homes and forced to provide policing services in the refugee camps under command. Many nations and governments in most cases involve the services of young and inexperienced police officers in refugee camps because of the threats and dangers involved. They fear losing their experienced and well-trained officers. Several cases have been imminent where the police arrive at crime scenes in refugee camps late even after early distress calls and conduct shoddy investigation, which do not lead to meaningful arrests (Crisp, 2000). In other instances, when there are successful arrests and imprisonment, prisons become a looming ground for the criminal establishments. This case has been experienced in the Kenyan refugee camps (Crisp, 2000). Other refugee camps also have their guerrilla policing that handle criminal cases and host nations’ law enforcing officers are not allowed in the camps, for instance, at Dadaab in Kenya, which is one of the largest camps in the world. The camp is believed to be controlled by the Al-Shabaab militants from Somalia.

Despite the fact that justice in UNHCR refugee camps should be under the rule of law in the host nation, this is not applicable since the indigenous refugee institutions are responsible for arrests, trial, and punishment of all forms of social injustices. This process undermines the ethical facets within the camps. Under these arrangements, women who are the main victims of victim’s social injustices like sexual abuse, harassment, and forced labor are highly affected (Crisp, 2000). Additionally, many of the UNHCR refugee camps are well organized within themselves that even pose dangers to existing justice systems that purport to work well. Therefore, the discrimination of the UNHCR administration in management of refugee camps and insufficient justice systems that enhance social injustices are the main challenges that affect the ethical facet of camps run by UNHCR.

Therefore, it is apparent that the existence of refugees aided by the UNHCR ascertains the need for stouter human rights fortifications within nations to ensure that social justices are upheld within the camps. The presence of refugees and social injustice taking place in the camps divulge the cessation of an effective relationship between specific governments, citizens, and refugee organization like the UNHCR. This results in loss of state protection of rights of the refugees, which exposes them to social injustices and other unethical dangers. There should be a close coordination between the host nation and the judicial system to ensure that the same laws of the land are effected in the refugee camps and not treated as states within states thereby being left alone to the mandate of the UNHCR. Several things happen when these individuals become refugees, for example, life in a refugee camp reveals the breakdown in the comprehensive international refugee and human rights regime, raising the notion of whether these people are treated as human beings. If all human beings are accorded all rights and privileges in the nations, why are there many elements of social injustices in the refugee camps? Therefore, the UNHCR and the host nations of the refugees need to stop this discrimination and treat the refugees as other citizens who apart from meeting their needs also need to be treated ethically.

Many refugees in the UNHCR administered camps are caged in a limited space and provided the basic requirements for survival by the UNHCR. Nonetheless, in most cases, these refugees are speechless and invisible in addressing the form of injustices they encounter within the camps. In the event that the refugees try voice their issues through different means, they are regarded as rebels and risk losing their status as refugees. Therefore, despite being like other human beings with even more needs, refugees are treated as a burden and people who do not need any human rights. It is apparent that many refugees cannot protect themselves. Therefore, the simplest way to ensure that the refugees’ rights and social injustices within camps are addressed, they need to be allowed to be more independent through reducing constraints on their movement and expanding their economic opportunities outside the camps. Additionally, the UNHCR and the host nations need to have an inclusive restructuring of the refugee guidelines by shifting focus from a needs-based perspective to a rights-based outlook. This will be significant in transforming the approach of UNHCR, other aid organizations like donor nations, and the host nation. This can be attained through legislation of structures that focus on enhancing refugee autonomy and involvement in the nation status.

Additionally, another policy recommendation in addressing the social injustices in UNHCR refugee camps is obliterating camps that last for more than two years. This can be attained by integrating refugees into the host nations or repatriating them back to their host nations. Nevertheless, each option presents a major impediment. For instance, host nations will be unwilling to have an extra population because of the economic and societal risks entailed in integrating a huge population of individuals with no basic life tenets like education and employment and do not speak the host language. On the other hand, returning them to their nation is also a breach of the UNHCR policy that protects refugees from going back to their nations and risking their lives. This discussion is at the center stage in the Kenyan Dadaab refugee camp. The camp has hosted mainly Somali refugees for a long time and has lost its intended purpose. It has become a breeding bed for terror suspects masterminding terror activities on the Kenyan soil and other social injustices within the camp like rape, forced marriage and forced recruitment into militia groups, such as the Al shabaab. The Kenyan government is in its final stages of repatriating the refugees to Somalia. It is grounded on the argument that the camp has lost its initial mandate and has become more dangerous to the security of the nation. It is believed that most of the major terror attacks in the nation, for instance, the Westgate Mall attack in 2013 and the recent massacre of Garrisa University students, which were carried out by the Al-shaabab were planned in the refugee camp. In Jordan, the UNHCR is addressing the refugee issue in a different perspective with a plan to establish a permanent city for them. Therefore, in addressing the refugees issue in relation to social justice and human rights components, several challenges are involved, which vary in existence. However, the human right issue must be given priority despite entailing many challenges across the globe.


Major Challenges, Conflicts and Strategies in Maintaining Responsible Conduct

One of the major challenges that the UNHCR encounters in addressing the refugees plight is the economies of refugee camps. Most of the economies of the refugee camps are directed by similar ideologies of other cities, excepting the fact that the refugees are restricted from leaving the camp to d search for basic needs. They receive these necessities from the UNHCR and other benevolent partners. However, it is apparent that there are no resources among the refugees, which makes the refugees to rely entirely on UNHCR for fundamental supplies, such as food, water, and shelter. According to the humanitarian organizations, the lack of supplies enhances increased violence within refugee camps. This notion has shown two main implications on factors that are related either positively or negatively. For instance, it is argued that more resources in refugee camps increase the possibility of violence, explicit burglaries within the refugees’ camps or other locals outside the camps (Lischer, 2005). This implies that it is not only the supplies of necessities within the camp or humanitarian aid that nurture a violent environment but also the security structure within the camps.

For example, Za’atari camp for Syrian refugees in Jordan presents one of the best examples of this analysis of resource allocation and violence. Despite the fact that the camp is considered one of the well-organized and advanced camps resulting from the long-standing planning of the UNHCR, it is facing the problem of organized criminal commotion from a coterie-like man called Al-Hariri. He is known for stealing resources needed for his district and for himself. Furthermore, the UNHCR is forced to work with him since through his influence, he can instigate violent actions from the residents. Therefore, the UNHCR collaborates with him for the sake of peace despite his conduct (Amos & Breslow, 2013). In most cases, the UNHCR has been forced to work with street lords and local organizations’ leaders as a simple way of delivering aid. However, groups of people or individuals like al-Hariri can also trigger violence when they want (Lischer, 2005). According to the objectives of UNHCR, a camp that is established on a podium of a criminal organization, which can blast any time, is not established based on peace or safety.

Additionally, most of the women in UNHCR refugee camps are forced to walk long distances in search for water, firewood and other commodities, which are not offered by the UNHCR and other aid organizations. This makes them to venture in outside environments away from the safety of the refugee camps to get the essential resources. They are exposed to assault and abuse and other forms of favors when alone, for instance, sexual demands when they want to pass through host populations’ land or checkpoints (JCRB & TEC, 2008). For instance, in the Kenyan context, many refugee camps in the early 90s reported instances of sexual assault in a period of 7 months, mainly involving women gathering firewood at daytime (Crisp, 2000, p. 605). Therefore, most host nations’ policies that are aimed at controlling the movement of refugees through restriction accessibility to material assistance, job opportunities, and health services have exposed women and children to further risks of sexual manipulation and prostitution (Martin, 2008). Although lack of resources is attributed to the cases of rising violence in UNHCR refugee camps, other elements are also involved, for instance, resources delivery as well as methods of dispersing them that trigger violence in the camps.

Another challenge that faces UNHCR refugee camps involves the political fueled controversies between refugees and their host or sending nations. In most cases, many local residents living around refugee camps also create a substantive crisis as a result of their resentfulness to the aid that the refugees receive. This is attributed to the feared increased standard of living through the aid that refugees receive as compared to the locals (Crisp, 2000). In this case, the UNHCR has stepped in and curbed the escalation. For example, when this happened in Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, the local Turkana community agitation was controlled by the construction of water catchments and primary school classrooms among other amenities by the agencies aimed at appeasing the locals. However, most of the Turkana local communities around the refugee camp still believe that all livestock owned by the refugees and other NGOs and agencies belong to them (Crisp, 2000).

Additionally, nations also permit militarization and an encourage violent and unethical issues to escalate in the refugee camps without making efforts to curb them (Lischer, 2005). The host nation is responsible for the security of the refugees in camps (Nowrojee, 2008). Nonetheless, when the host nations resent against the refugees, they tend to leave the whole burden to the UNIHCR, thus creating a big challenge to the agency (Crisp, 2000).

Another challenge that the UNHCR agency and its employee face in dealing with refugee camps’ social justice is the conflict triggered by the refugees in their host nation. This is common when the refugee flee is a consequent of ethnic violence. According to Lischer (2005), the main reason of refugees fleeing their sending nations greatly determines the level in which they are armed. In most cases, the conflict that makes them to flee from sender nations is extended to the host nations’ refugee camps, especially if the individuals from the fighting communities are placed in one camp. For example, there have been several cases of death and injuries in Kenyan refugee camps involving the fights between two worrying Sudanese communities: the Dinkas and Nuers. In some instances, young men are forced to go back to the sending nations to assist their communities in ethnic wars who are recruited in the refugee camps as in the case of Somalia (Crisp, 2000). This form of conflict is dangerous, particularly for women and children who become vulnerable to rape, and other forms of unethical injustices as way of degrading other communities’ cultural, sacred, or political groups’ outlook (Nowrojee, 2008). Thus, abrasion among refugees, locals, the government and factions for refugees that are politically motivated present a major challenge to the UNHCR agency operation

The erosion of culture among the refugees in camps is also another main challenge that the UNHCR and its employees face in their humanitarian service delivery. When the refugees flee out of their inherent homes and community and go to refugee camps, they are forced to begin a new phase of life devoid of their customary constructs of family and community because of the state of their sending nations. Consequently, the individuals lose their historical avenues of crime control, predominantly if many refugees originate from communities governed by local establishments. Additionally, the act of being detached from blood family as well as other neighbors means a loss of protection (Crisp, 2000). The traditional responsibilities of the refugees like farmers or hunters among men are lost in the camps, thus causing loss of power and status. This has been attributed to be one of the major causes of social injustices and unethical behavior in the camps as the only way of feeling dominant (Nowrojee, 2008).

In addressing this notion, the UNHCR has focused on empowering and supporting women through enhancing their independence in the camps. This agenda is aimed at promoting a change of roles of women as a result of cultural loss in the refugee camps to make them see themselves in a different perspective. However, these developments by the UNHCR can have both positive and negative implications. For example, women are exposed to opportunities like employment that they may have not been accessed to in their original nations thus transforming their roles in the homes. Nevertheless, this situation may also worsen the frustration of men who are coping with loss of their status, thus further triggering cases of abuse on women in the form of domestic violence (Martin, 2008). Therefore, the UNHCR needs to create a balance between augmenting women’s empowerment and the cultural contingency to avoid complicating the matters for the women.

Many refugees in UNHCR camps are also faced with emotional and psychological challenges that the agency and its employees find it hard to address, which affect their service delivery. Normally, life in the camps negatively affects the mental and emotional well-being of refugees. This is because many of individuals in the refugee camps do not have any information about their future besides their current condition of not being independent. According to social workers’ report, this feeling makes most of them to experience cases of anxiety and desperation (Feyissa, 2008).

Despite the fact that the UNHCR and other organizations supply the physical needs of the refugees, there are numerous cases of depression, dependence, stress and trauma among the refugees (Crisp, 2000, p. 624). Moreover, as a result of the feelings of uncertainty and distressful, individuals in refugee camps are prone to engage in violent and other unethical manners. For example, because of the tough life in the camps, children, particularly male youths, go through rough life full of beatings and detention. They consider this as a normal way of living thus reaffirming it and creating a violent behavior within the camps (Nyers, 2006).

Besides lack of adequate resources, increased levels of social injustices within refugee camps managed by UNHCR have also triggered more focus on aid and security, forgetting the issue of re-creating human dignity and autonomy in the camps. According to the 1951 Refugee Convention, fundamental ideologies define how nations and international community play their roles in addressing the plights faced by refugees. One of the principal functions of the host nation is the non-refoulment that outlaws host nations from repatriating refugees to their risky home nations. Furthermore, another guideline that has been effected is the establishment of camps very far from the sending nations. Nonetheless, despite these developments, many host nations have focused on the management of the refugees other than offering rights-based support to the refugees thus depriving them their rights (Hackl, 2013).


Therefore, the UNHCR itself has also failed by focusing on the provision of aid to refugees and not involving their voices and valuing success. In most instances, most of the UNHCR employees are often alienated from the refugees because of the security concerns, thus keeping a distance from the daily ferocity of social injustices taking place in the camps. This act creates an insufficient access to aid workers by the refugees, which exposes women and children to many unethical and social injustices in the camps (Feyissa, 2008). This makes it impossible in the implementation of the recommended strategies.

In many refugee camps, the UNHCR has established structures in the form of committees that incorporate the refugees’ voices in camp administration. Nonetheless, these voice representations are being utilized by the UNHCR representatives by rewarding their personal interests through giving them more materials meant for donations. They are not involved in presenting the real plights of the refugees, which diminishes chances of enacting processes of solving refugees’ concerns (Nyers, 2006). Furthermore, the refugees may also be elected in the committees but due to the discrimination from the UNHCR administrators, they are not allowed to take part in significant roles like aid distribution (Nyers, 2006). This also undermines the implementation of the recommendations in solving the ethical issue in the camps.

The donor nations also need to evaluate the success of UNHCR through the ability to empower the refugees in reclaiming their dignity and not in terms of aid provision. Many UNHCR employees have expressed this challenge. They state that donor nations only focus on material provisions and not service provision. However, in spite of the fact that many international players have failed in addressing their failure over the issue of refugees, the UNHCR has also acknowledged its failure in addressing the sovereignty of the refugees.


Conclusion and Expected Outcomes

When there are balanced facets of addressing the plights affecting refugees as presented in the recommendations, there will be less instances of unethical and social injustices in the UNHCR refugee camps. The refugees will also be empowered and given future hope to make them productive despite their current situations.

The equal treatment of the refugees and reduced discrimination will also ensure that refugees’ plight is addressed well. By listening to the refugees, the host nations and the UNHCR will also find out the best solution besides provision of aid and material support to improve the lives of refugees.



Amos, D., & Breslow, P. (2013, July 14). The don who’s taken charge of Jordan’s biggest refugee camp. NPR. Retrieved from

Crisp, J. (2000). A state of insecurity: The political economy of violence in Kenya’s refugee camps. African Affairs99(397), 601-632.

Feyissa, A. (2008). There is more than one way of dying: An Ethiopian perspective on the effects of long-term stays in refugee camps (R. Horn, Trans.). In D. Hollenbach (Ed.), Refugee rights: Ethics, advocacy, and Africa (pp. 13-26). Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.

Feyissa, A., & Horn, R. (2008). There is more than one way of dying: An Ethiopian perspective of the effects of long stays in refugee camps. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.

Jastram, K., & Achiron, M. (2001). Refugee protection: a guide to international refugee law. Retrieved from:

Joint Commission for Refugees of the Burundi and Tanzania Episcopal Conferences. (2008). Burundian refugees in western Tanzania: Ethical responsibilites. In D. Hollenbach (Ed.), Refugee rights: Ethics, advocacy, and Africa (pp. 53-75). Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.

Lischer, S. K. (2006). Dangerous sanctuaries: refugee camps, civil war, and the dilemmas of humanitarian aid. Cornell University Press.

Martin, S. (2008). Justice, women’s rights, and forced migration. In D. Hollenbach (Ed.), Refugee rights: Ethics, advocacy, and Africa (pp. 137-160). Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.

Nowrojee, B. (2008). Sexual violence, gender roles, and displacement. Refugee rights: Ethics, advocacy, and Africa, 125-136.

Nyers, P. (2006). Rethinking refugees: Beyond states of emergency. New York, NY: Taylor & Francis Group.

Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. (2003). Partnership: An operations management handbook for UNHCR’s partners. Geneva, Suiza: UNHCR.

Song, Y. H. (2012). International Humanitarian Response and Militarization of Refugee and IDP Camps in Kenya and Sudan. Journal of International and Area Studies, 115-136.