The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is the United Nations agency mandated to protect refugees, forcibly displaced communities and stateless people, and assist in their voluntary repatriation, local integration or resettlement to a third country. UNHCR was created on 14 December 1950, during the aftermath of the Second World War, to help millions of refugees who had fled or lost their homes. It had three years to complete its work and then disband.

On 28 July of the following year, the convention relating to the status of refugees, also known as the ‘1951 Refugee Convention’ was approved at a special United Nations conference. The Convention defines who a refugee is, and sets out the rights of individuals who are granted asylum and the responsibilities of nations that grant asylum. Today, nearly 70 years later, UNHCR is still hard at work, protecting and assisting refugees around the world.

In April 2019, a Zakat Fund was established by UNHCR to use Zakat for relief of refugees. The launch report has some highlights as follows:

  • There are 68.5 million refugees and other displaced persons around the world, of which 40.8 million are Muslim. A visual mapping of refugees, IDPs and asylum seekers by source country:
  • It is estimated that the current Zakat given worldwide stands at $76 billion, which is modest in context of $1.7 trillion in wealth held by high net worth individuals in the Middle East , and separately, $2.5 trillion in assets held globally by the Islamic finance Industry. (Zakat is a mandatory requirement for all Muslims that meet a minimum level of wealth (nisab), to donate 2.5% of their accumulated wealth annually).
  • The UNHCR Zakat Fund is in compliance with the fatwa. The fatwa starts by reasserting that Zakat funds must be distributed to the categories mentioned in the verse 60 of Surah 9 in the Quran: {Zakat expenditures are only for the poor and for the needy and for those employed to collect [Zakat] and for bringing hearts together [for Islam] and for freeing captives [or slaves] and for those in debt and for the cause of Allah and for the [stranded] traveller – an obligation [imposed] by Allah. And Allah is Knowing and Wise}.

It also mentions that Zakat cannot be given to non-Muslims.

  • Our 100% Zakat distribution policy means that all donations, which are received in a dedicated non-interest bearing bank account, are delivered directly and in full to the most vulnerable refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs). Operational and overhead costs are covered from other sources (non-Zakat) of funding to UNHCR.
  • Islam requires believers to assist and protect vulnerable people and offers a number of mechanisms for their care and support. According to Islamic migration law (hijrah), individuals have the right both to seek and to be granted asylum in any Muslim state. Furthermore, it is the duty of Muslims to accept and protect refugees for as long as they seek protection. In comparison to modern refugee law, hijrah offers a broader definition of a refugee, and gives individuals, rather than states, the right to determine asylum. However, despite its significance in Islam, hijrah is rarely invoked by Muslim states today. The promotion of Islamic teachings on refugees could encourage Muslim states to widen their acceptance and protection of refugees. (Ref. High Commissioner’s Dialogue on Protection Challenges, Theme: Faith and Protection (12-13 December 2012)). The top 5 host countries for refugees under UNHCR’s mandate are:

There is an online calculator available on UNHCR web portal to calculate the due Zakat.

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