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Questions and Answers

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Answering the tough questions from our donors

How is UNHCR different from CARE, Oxfam, or World Vision? Does UNHCR trade its donor list? Why doesn't UNHCR have a Charitable Registration Number? Can I donate clothes, or books, or our tent? These are just some of the questions asked by our donors that are answered on this page, designed to answer some of the touch questions posed to our volunteers and staff at UNHCR Canada.

Political Questions


Q: Refugees are line-jumpers! Tell me why I should help!

A: Refugees are victims of persecution and violence. In Canada, there is a lot of talk about “bogus” refugees and many confuse refugees with economic migrants. Refugees are seeking asylum: a freedom from persecution, violence, or death. Yes, they are seeking a better life for themselves and their families; they seek a place to be safe. There is no such thing as a “bogus refugee.” There are refugees as defined by the 1951 Convention, and there are failed asylum seekers, who are the people who do not meet the Convention definition.

Q: Canada already gives, why should I?

A: The Government of Canada makes a contribution to the UN Refugee Agency on behalf of every Canadian, and for that, we should all be proud of our country’s role in the global community. In fact, in 1986 the UN Refugee Agency gave its highest award to the Canadian people — The Nansen Medal — for the humanitarian contributions made to refugees. In 2003, the Government of Canada gave more than $30 million dollars to support refugee programs run by UNHCR. That is about $1 per Canadian. In that same year, UNHCR spent $70 per refugee. Imagine if you got $70 worth of goods and services on which to survive — for a year! By making an individual gift, you can actually make a significant difference to a refugee, perhaps even a family of refugees. We also need to recognize that each of us is lucky to live in a country where we do not suffer mass persecution or violence. A donation to refugees is a way to acknowledge how fortunate we are in an increasingly volatile world.


Q: Why do we care about refugees? We have our own problems here!

True. But most of us have not had to run from our home because we were scared for our life. Indeed, when WE go camping, we can come home after the weekend. A donation to UNHCR does not remove our efforts to fund improvements needed in our own country. A donation to UNHCR recognizes that in relative terms, each of us can make a significant difference in the lives of a person caught in a nightmare somewhere else in the world.

Q: The UN has failed! Look at Rwanda and Iraq! Why should I support the UN?

The United Nations is a diverse institution. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the UN Development Program (UNDP) and the World Food Program (WFP) are all examples of humanitarian agencies within the UN system, each working together to improve the human condition. It is important to recognize that the humanitarian work of these UN organizations and others has saved countless thousands of lives — quietly, without media coverage or debate — through immunization campaigns, provision of shelter, clean water, food and other basic aid in emergencies, and through countless projects to build sustainable communities worldwide.

Q: How are you different from CARE / Oxfam / World Vision?

These agencies are Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s). They each have their own board of directors and many of these NGO’s do excellent work. In fact, UNHCR will often hire NGO’s to provide services to refugees, especially if the NGO has proven experience in doing this work effectively. The UN Refugee Agency, by comparison, is an inter-governmental organization. Simply, this means that we have a mandate from the governments of the world to lead and coordinate international action for the worldwide protection of refugees and the resolution of refugee problems. We are responsible for all refugees until they find a permanent place to call home — no matter where they are on the planet.

Q: Do you work for Palestinian Refugees?

The UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) is responsible for providing for the needs of refugees in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and the Syrian Republic. There are an estimated 4.5 million Palestinian refugees in the world, and the majority of them are located in these regions. For those refugees from this region who have sought asylum elsewhere in the world, UNHCR is responsible for their protection.


Fundraising / Administrative Questions


Q: Do you trade your donor list?

UNHCR Canada began raising funds from private donors in 2002. In order to increase our base of support, we have traded our donor list with other like-minded charities. This is the most cost effective way to encourage new support. It should be noted that the trading of names allows for that name only to be used once; the principle is that people who have charitable intent will want to know of other worthwhile causes they might support. Of course, if a donor indicates to us that they do not want their name traded, we will abide by the request. We do not trade the names of donors who make a monthly gift, nor those who give online. We never rent or sell names of our donors, and we do not trade with commercial organizations, only charities.

Q: What are your administration costs?

The UN Refugee Agency has administration costs of 10%. This means that 90% of all donated funds goes to support programs for refugees. Only 1% of the total (and contained in the 10% above) is used for fundraising worldwide.

Q: Why don’t you have a Charitable Registration Number?

The UN Refugee Agency is not a charity although we do charitable work. In Canada, all UN Agencies are eligible to issue tax receipts for charitable donations under a special agreement with the Canada Revenue Agency (formerly Canada Customs and Revenue Agency). Like municipal governments and political parties, we are permitted to accept donations and issue receipts without having a board of directors or filing a charitable tax return.

Q: Can I donate clothes, or books, or our tent?

Although refugees need everything from tents to medical supplies, these goods must meet specific standards and must be available in quantities that ensure that they can be affordably shipped, distributed and replaced if necessary. If you feel that you have a significant quantity of goods that can be used by UNHCR, please contact the office in Ottawa. If appropriate, the offer can be forwarded to the procurement division in Geneva. If the goods are considered useful to UNHCR, then arrangements can be made to issue a tax receipt.


Q: I can’t afford to donate, can I go overseas to volunteer?

Refugee camps are often under severe security restraints. Most refugees have run away from aggressors, and therefore the people who are permitted in the camps must be carefully screened for the safety of the refugees. As a result, volunteers are only accepted through official channels, primarily through the UN Volunteer program. To work overseas as a volunteer with the UN you’ll want to apply through this program.

The best way to volunteer your time to help refugees is to help UNHCR Canada inform Canadians about refugee issues, and encourage all Canadians to make a contribution to the UN Refugee Agency. There are speaking notes and fundraising tools available to help you if you call toll free 1-877-232-0909.

Q: I need to look at your accounts. Do you have an annual report?

In the late spring each year, UNHCR Canada issues an annual review, in which there are basic financial figures provided for donors. For more detailed financials by program and region of operation, please contact withyou@unhcr.ca, and a free copy of our annual Global Report is available, upon request.

Q: How do I donate?

Online: www.unhcr.ca/donate

By phone at 1-877-232-0909

By mail to our office:

UNHCR Canada
401-280 Albert Street
Ottawa, Ontario K1P5G8

The best way to help refugees is to make a monthly pledge. For as little as $25 per month, you can make a tremendous difference to refugees. Donations online are secure transactions and are tremendously cost effective. If you are collecting funds from friends or family through a community based event, please contact our office for further instructions on how to ensure each person who donates will receive a tax creditable receipt. Donations can also be sent by postage paid envelope to our processing centre in Toronto (for a supply of postage paid envelopes, please call us).


Q: Can I make sure my money goes to a specific country, or persecuted group?

In some cases—such as during humanitarian emergencies or if there is a project that needs specific funding—UNHCR will ask donors to support a specific program. Most of the time, however, we appreciate when donors allow the UN Refugee Agency to put their contribution towards those in “greatest need,” as refugee needs can be quite volatile. If there is an outbreak of disease, or if there is a security risk, or if the rainy season washes away a camp, it is best to be able to divert funds to address these requirements. If you have specific requests, we are pleased to discuss the available options with you by telephone.

Q: I want to put UNHCR in my will. How do I do this?

If you would like to leave a legacy to support refugees, please contact the UNHCR Canada office for information on wills and bequests, life insurance policies, gifts of stock or property, or setting up a trust fund for refugees. Visit our Planned Giving pages for more information.

Q: Can I sponsor a refugee?

No, a gift to the UN Refugee Agency helps communities — whole populations — in need, not just individuals. Sponsorship programs for international causes are extremely expensive to administer accurately, and the UN Refugee Agency believes that it is best to keep our administrative costs as low as possible in order to help as many refugees as possible.*

* “Refugee sponsorship” is a very specific term describing the process through which individual organizations offer assurances for a refugee who comes to Canada, and does not apply to fundraising.




WithYou is UNHCR's semi-annual newsletter that highlights the work UNHCR has performed for refugees around the world, as well as in-depth interviews with field workers who make it all happen. WithYou is now available in PDF download or Online format.