Nansen International Office for Refugees


The Nansen International Office for Refugees, authorized by the League of Nations in the fall of 1930, began active operations on April 1, 1931. This office was the successor of the first international agency dealing with refugees, the High Commission for Refugees, established by the League of Nations under the direction of Fridtjof Nansen (q.v.) on June 27, 1921.

In 1923, the original mandate of the High Commissioner to cover Russian refugees was extended to include the Armenian refugees. To begin with, the High Commission provided both material assistance as well as legal and political protection to refugees. In 1924 the International Labor Organization assumed responsibility for material assistance, but five years later retumcd this function to the High Commission. Meanwhile, as the refugee problem broadened, the High Commissioner’s mandate was broadened to take in Assyrians, Assyro-Chaldeans, and Turkish refugees.

After Nansen’s death in May, 1930, and the later abolition of the office of the High Commission for Refugees, the League Secretariat assumed responsibility for the protection of the refugees, and that for material assistance was vested in the Nansen International Office for Refugees, an autonomous body under the authority of the League.

The League provided administrative expenses for the Nansen Office on a schedule diminishing yearly as the Office approached the end of its mission on December 31, 1938. Its revenues for welfare and relief were obtained from private contributions, but mainly from fees charged for the «Nansen Certificate», an international substitute for a passport, and from the proceeds of the sale in France and Norway of stamps in aid of refugees.

The Nansen Office was beset by overwhelming problems during its existence – among them, the lack of stable and adequate financing; the onset of the depression which closed employment opportunities for refugees; the decline of the prestige of the League after the events of 1931 and 1935; the growing avalanche of refugees, mostly from Germany, Italy, and Spain; and the reluctance of member states of the League to permit League activities on behalf of persons who had previously been citizens of their countries.

The accomplishments of the Nansen Office include the adoption by fourteen countries of the Refugee Convention of 1933, a modest charter of human rights; the settlement of the Saar refugees in Paraguay after 1935; the construction of villages to house upwards of 40,000 Armenians in Syria and Lebanon and the resettlement of another 10,000 in Erivan; and, most important, the material, legal, and financial help given to almost a million refugees.

The problem of German refugees after National Socialism came to power in Germany became so acute in 1933 that the League established a High Commission for Refugees Coming from Germany. This Commission, whose mandate was later broadened to take in both Austrian and Sudetenland refugees, was scheduled to be dissolved on December 31, 1938, simultaneously with the Nansen Office.

On that date both offices were, in fact, dissolved, and the next day a new agency of the League of Nations, the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees under the Protection of the League was opened, with headquarters in London.

Selected Bibliography
Adams, Walter, «Extent and Nature of the World Refugee Problem», The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 203 (May, 1939) 26-36.
Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. Paris, Nansen Office for Refugees, 1938.
Hansson, Michael, The Refugee Problem. London, League of Nations Union, 1938.
Hansson, Michael, The Refugee Problem and the League of Nations. Conference held at the Norwegian Nobel Institute, Oslo, January 7, 1938. Geneva, 1938.
Macartney, Carlile A., Refugees: The Work of the League. London, 1930.
Nansen, Fridtjof, «Armenian Refugees», League of Nations Document C. 237. 1924.
Nansen, Fridtjof, «Russian Refugees: General Report on the Work Accomplished up to March 15, 1922», League of Nations Document C. 124. M. 74. 1922.
Nansen International Office for Refugees. Report by the Governing Body to the Twelfth Assembly of League of Nations [A.27. 1931.] See also Report by M. Michael Hansson, Former President of the Governing Body of the Nansen International Office for Refugees, on the Activities of the Office from July 1st to December 31st, 1938. [A. 19. 1939. xii] (1939. xii. B.2).
Simpson, Sir John Hope, The Refugee Problem: Report of a Survey. London, 1939.
«Statutes of Nansen International Office for Refugees as Approved by the Council on January 19th, 1931», League of Nations, Official Journal, February, 1931, pp. 309-311.
See also selected bibliography for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

From Nobel Lectures, Peace 1926-1950, Editor Frederick W. Haberman, Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam, 1972

This text was first published in the book series Les Prix Nobel. It was later edited and republished in Nobel Lectures. To cite this document, always state the source as shown above.

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1938

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