TITLE: UNHCR: The UN Refugee Agency

Access: http://www.unhcr.ch/

Recent events have focused our attention on refugees in Afghanistan. But throughout the world, over 21 million people have been forced out of their homes because of conflict and persecution. The principal United Nations (UN) agency with a mandate to provide protection and assistance to these groups is the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). It serves as an authoritative voice on refugee matters, and represents a key resource for researchers, legal advocates, policy makers, and other practitioners who work in this field.

While its primary objective is to raise awareness about refugee issues, the UNHCR Web site delivers much more than just press releases. Its wealth of full-text content comes in the form of official documents from the UNHCR Executive Committee, evaluation and research papers, a quarterly magazine, country reports, legal texts, handbooks and guidelines, maps, statistics, and photos. Its design is visually pleasing with bold colors and plenty of images interspersed with the text. News stories are updated daily, and documents are placed online in a timely fashion.

Despite or perhaps because of the sheer amount of content, browsing the site is challenging. At the upper-most levels, the divisions seem fairly straightforward. But the more you dig, the more you find. It is also impossible to know what has been newly added to the site. No "what's new" feature is available, and only certain key publications are highlighted on the home page. To benefit fully from what the site has to offer, one must be familiar with the work of the organization, and be willing to take time to explore the site's architecture. For this reason, it is not appropriate for undergraduates, with the exception of the "Basic Facts" section, which provides an introduction to refugee issues and the agency's work, and "News."

Sophisticated search options are available to counter some of these navigational challenges, including the opportunity to restrict searches to different sections of the site, search titles versus full-text, and look for only the most current results. There are also two separate search engines for the library catalog and the full-text country of origin and legal information databases.

UNHCR was one of the first international agencies to make the Web a primary information conduit. In exchange for investing some time and effort on this site, users will be rewarded with large quantities of quality results.

Elisa Mason
Forced Migration Online, Refugee Studies Centre
University of Oxford elisa.mason@qeh.ox.ac.uk


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