UNHCR Emergency Handbook

Issued in 2015, this is the 4th edition of UNHCR’s Handbook for Emergencies, first published in 1982. This digital edition replaces all previous print editions of the Emergency Handbook. It is primarily a tool for UNHCR emergency operations and its workforce. Most of the Emergency Handbook content is publicly available. As such, the Handbook is also accessible as a tool for partners in emergency operations and other interested parties.

Some sections of this Emergency Handbook are for internal use and relate to UNHCR management and administrative procedures. UNHCR personnel can access this content by signing in with their UNHCR e-mail address.

This edition of the Emergency Handbook has been completely redesigned. The digital publication channel – in the form of a website, offline USB stick version and mobile applications – allows UNHCR to keep the content updated all the time, and to distribute updates to users in real time. The content has been completely re-organised and updated to reflect current policies and good practices. It brings more attention to out-of-camp emergency response, covers all aspects of UNHCR-led refugee emergency preparedness and response, UNHCR’s involvement in IDP emergencies, and describes current inter-agency leadership and coordination systems, including the Refugee Coordination Model and UNHCR’s responsibilities within the Inter Agency Standing Committee (IASC) context.

The Emergency Handbook guidance is published in the form of “Entries”, self-contained units of content. Entries are structured along seven main topic areas:

1. “Getting ready”: Emergency preparedness;

2. “Protecting and empowering”: Community based protection; protection interventions, asylum, specific needs, registration, legal standards and principles;

3. “Delivering the response”: Programme planning and management, sector guidance and good practises by operational context (urban, rural, camps), standards and indicators, UNHCR management procedures for administration, finance, human resources, supply and information and communication technology (ICT);

4. “Leading and coordinating”: Setting strategy, coordination, emergencies, resource mobilisation and information management;

5. “Staff well-being”: Support and advice for emergency responders, also in terms of psychological and physical well-being;

6. “Security”: Security and risk management guidance, in view of emergency responders and persons of concern;

7. “Media”: Working with journalists and mass media, including print, visual and digital media.

UNHCR would like to thank the Luxembourg standby partner “emergency.lu” for developing the technical solutions for this tool. Over 120 authors have contributed their expertise to this edition, which has been conceptualised, edited and managed by the Division of Emergency, Security and Supply (DESS). We warmly acknowledge the dedication, focus and extensive work that all Divisions at UNHCR HQ have put into this initiative.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees was established on December 14, 1950 by the United Nations General Assembly. The agency is mandated to lead and co-ordinate international action to protect refugees and resolve refugee problems worldwide. Its primary purpose is to safeguard the rights and well-being of refugees. It strives to ensure that everyone can exercise the right to seek asylum and find safe refuge in another State, with the option to return home voluntarily, integrate locally or to resettle in a third country. It also has a mandate to help stateless people. UNHCR is also involved in the response to internally displaced persons (IDPs) within the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) context, (co) leading at global level three clusters.

UNHCR has twice won the Nobel Peace Prize. As of mid-2014, its over 9,300 staff members work in 123 countries providing protection and assistance to more than 46 million refugees, returnees, internally displaced people and stateless persons. Some 88 per cent of UNHCR staff work in the field, often in difficult and dangerous duty stations.

UNHCR emergency preparedness and response
The agency is often faced with large scale emergencies requiring an immediate response – such as an eruption of fighting causing tens of thousands of people to flee their homes seeking safety and asylum across borders. That means the agency must be prepared and able to mount an emergency response without delay.

To prepare for and respond to an emergency, UNHCR has assembled standby teams with a range of key skills who are ready for deployment anywhere in the world at a moment’s notice. The agency can mobilise trained personnel within 72 hours from its internal emergency standby rosters, as well from rosters managed by emergency standby partners. The agency put in place global emergency stockpiles of core relief items in seven strategic locations. Mechanisms are also established for the immediate mobilisation of financial resources to help meet the response to an emergency without delay.

UNHCR’s eCentre, meanwhile, is helping improve emergency preparedness and response capabilities in the Asia-Pacific region through targeted training another capacity-building measures. At the global, regional and national level, UNHCR also contributes to inter-agency initiatives to enhance early warning and preparedness.

You may access the Emergency Handbook here: