Humanitarian Profile: Sadruddin Aga Khan

Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan (1933 – 2003) was the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees from 1966 to 1978.  During his tenure, he reoriented the agency’s focus beyond Europe and prepared it for an explosion of complex refugee issues.  He also advocated for greater collaboration between non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and UN agencies.

Prince Sadruddin was born in France, received his early education in Switzerland, and graduated from Harvard College in 1954.  He served as the Special Envoy to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in 1959.  At the time, the UNHCR’s resources were primarily focused on supporting refugees crossing from Eastern Europe.  In January 1966, he was became the youngest appointed United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees at the age of 33, after serving for three years as Deputy High Commissioner.  For the next twelve years he directed the UN refugee agency through one of its most difficult periods, coordinating the international response to the 1971 Bangladesh crisis that uprooted 10 million people, the 1972 exodus of hundreds of thousands of Hutus from Burundi to Tanzania, and the Indochinese boat people tragedy of the mid-1970s.

Prince Sadruddin’s determination not to discriminate between European and Third World refugees helped prepare the UNHCR for a change in the landscape of internationally displaced persons. During the 1950s, between 200,000 and 300,000 refugees of European origin required assistance. By the 1970s the European refugee problems were mostly solved, but had been replaced by millions of displaced persons in the Third World. He had widened the UNHCR mandate well beyond its original focus on Eastern Europe, extending the organisation’s reach to refugees from Palestine, Vietnam, Angola and Algeria.[10] As the scale and complexity of refugee issues continued to increase, the UNHCR and the international community at large was better positioned to adapt


Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan Obituary: The Economist, May 22nd 2003

Video: CBC Interview of His Highness Aga Khan

University of Hawaii at Manoa; Center of Excellence in DMHA; ICRC

Contact Information

Disaster Management & Humanitarian Assistance
University of Hawai'i at Manoa
2424 Maile Way, Saunders Hall 118
Honolulu, HI 96822