UNHCR site audit


I have chosen to present the official site of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The UNHCR is the official organization of the United Nations concerning Refugee. The HCR was mandated for the first time in order to prepare the Geneva Convention on Refugees. After the expiration of the first mandate, the organization was delegated by the General Assembly of the United Nations with an open mandate which has lasted up till now.


As the Legal Senior Officer of the Protection, Operations and Legal Advice section in the division of Protection Services of the HCR highlighted in a personal interview*:

“When the UNHCR was founded, we were mandated for 4 years, because states thought that this was a transitional period of history, but our mandate has been prolonged and now we have a mandate without a time limitation, I should say unfortunately. I think that there will always be refugees. So, unfortunately we will not run out of work, but the reasons which maintain conflicts have changed with time. So, what is important for us and what we have been trying to do over our 50 years of history is to adapt our mandate and our way of working to the changing nature of refugee law”.

[*Interview with the Senior Legal Officer of the Protection, Operations and Legal Advice Section, Division of International Protection Services of the High Commissioner for the Refugees in 12 October 2007at the UNHCR Headquarters in Geneva].

I have chosen to present this site because UNHCR has the reputation of being the most important international institution concerning asylum-seeker and refugee protection. It is a respected institution which maintains relations with all the actors involved as far as refugees in the world are concerned, i.e. States, NGOs, International Institutions.

I also chose to present this site because in my opinion we should also be aware of the real role of this Institution. In a global game of power and influence, the HCR is not so indifferent to power as we might think. To the question “what has your work at the UNHCR offered you ”, the same Advisor replied:

…The possibility to influence. To influence processes, the possibility to change laws, to participate in the improvement of the situation of people for whom we are working (…). On the other hand, political processes often take quite long but I have to say, I have the feeling that I had never been really frustrated because we have quite an important role. Of course, we cannot change the world, but we are able to influence processes. Sometimes it may take time, sometimes it is not easy and we need people to cooperate with us, to mobilize the civil society, but it is something that I find very satisfactory**.

[*Interview with the Senior Legal Officer of the Protection, Operations and Legal Advice Section, Division of International Protection Services of the High Commissioner for the Refugees in 12 October 2007at the UNHCR Headquarters in Geneva].

Influence and power are two very important variables of the global game and the HCR is not indifferent to this subject. A purpose of this site audit might also be to analyze how it the combination of those two variables in the official image of the institutionis represented .

II. Presentation of the Site. Contextualization, presentation and analysis.

The dominant color of the site is the blue of the United Nations. On the main page, firstly a tool bar which concerns information about the site, contacts and the site directory is to be found. On the central place of this main page, we can see four columns. The left one concerns the topics of the site concerning general issues. There is also a search engine and a huge button which mentions “ Donate online” It seems to me a classic feature of NGO sites where anyone can be a donor, where anyone might be a potential client.

The second and the third column are focused on the action of the institution. Of course the subjects change in function of current issues but the same model seems to me to be present in this case also. First of all, we can mention an important element which is the order of presentation of current issues. First of all, it is accompanied with a picture and its topic is “Refugee from Myanmar finds farming and friends in Java”; i.e. an emotional presentation of an individual case. The next two subjects are also emotionally presented and the last two concerns political interventions on sensitive subjects. At the end of these two columns an index concerning actual operations and a photo and video files database can be found. The element which seems interesting to me is that at the end of the third column there is a topic which is entitled “Gallery of Prominent Refugees”. Even if the term might seem polemical, I think that this is a typical example of the attitude of the “morality merchants”.

Finally, the fourth column is devoted to the illustration of’ the contributions of various countries to the UNHCR. There is a small screen which displays, in real time, the millions of dollars which states and organizations donate to the UNHCR. A kind of online promotional publicity. After that, there is another small ticker screen which indicates two variables: “Funds available: US$ 1.360 mil. Target amounts : US$ 1.457 million.”

It seems to me clear that it is a very well-organized strategy of the Institution in order to enhance its image. We may observe that strategy and interests are thus mingled with a humanitarian reputation and the consolidation of power.

Looking forward to discussing your reactions.