Initially, as the problems of the prisoners of war and refugees came into being, the Secretary General's Office as well as the Economic and Political Sections of the League of Nations opened and maintained the corresponding files.
Since the appointment of F. Nansen in 1920 as the League of Nations High Commissioner for Prisoners of War and in 1921 as the High Commissioner for Russian Refugees, the League has taken his personnel, expenses, and documentation under its authority. Also, a Refugee Section was created within the Secretariat, which included both Nansen collaborators and staff of the League. This Section became the actual secretariat of the High Commissioner, which then maintained the files, initially opened by the central Registry, Records and Mailing Section (the Registry) of the League. These files were arranged and kept according to the following sections of the Registry's classification system: "Prisoners of War", "Russian Refugees", "Famine in Russia", and "Refugees from Asia Minor".
When the High Commissioner's Office was transferred to the International Labour Office (ILO), the Refugee Section followed, including its head and its files. These files constituted, on the one hand, its "Section files", that is, those opened and registered solely within the Refugee Section, and, on the other hand, files of the Registry on prisoners of war, refugees, famine in Russia. In addition, with the appointment by Nansen of various representatives and offices of the High Commissioner abroad, these institutions started to open and assemble their own archives.
When the Office of the High Commissioner was transferred from the ILO back to the League of Nations at the end of 1929, its archives were transferred too. These archives now included both the "new" files of the ILO period as well as the "old" League files. As a result of the transfer, a Refugee Section was reconstituted at the Secretariat of the League, which functioned a little more than a year. This Section, along with keeping the archives which came from the ILO, produced a certain number of files, classified through the Registry's administrative section number 20 as well as its own "Section files."
In April 1931 the Refugee Section was transferred to the newly established autonomous Nansen Office for Refugees. It brought with it the majority of its files, except for some files (Registry's section number 20), which were left at the Secretariat of the League because of their relevance to its competency. Following such a reorganisation, the Nansen Office continued to use and maintain those files "20" as well as opened new ones. At the same time the Secretariat of the League also maintained its files "20" and opened new ones classified through the Registry. In order to avoid confusion in the file numbers of the Nansen Office and of the Secretariat, the files which were opened at the Nansen Office from April 1931 onwards were given a serial number starting with 80 000. In their turn, files of the Secretariat (Registry files) were always registered according to the old system and thus, their numbers were not as high.
With the introduction of a new chronological classification system of the Registry in 1933, new file numbers were introduced for newly opened files "20" of the Secretariat. The system of classification of the Nansen Office, on the contrary, was left unchanged and, 80 000 and higher, serial numbers were still in use for the period from 1933 to the end of the 1930s.
As for the missions, offices or correspondents of the High Commissioner for Refugees and later Nansen Office in various countries, during the whole period of 1921-1938 those continued their work in their own way, little affected by the administrative changes of their central organisation(s). Therefore, their archives to a great extent have reflected their own administrative history.
After the official closure of the Nansen Office at the end of 1938, its archives stayed in Geneva and joined those of the Secretariat of the League. In 1947 these were supplemented by the archives of the Liquidator of the Nansen Office which came from Paris. The archives of the High Commissioner for German refugees, which operated between 1933 and 1938, were in 1936 also transferred to Geneva from London. The main part of the archives of the High Commissariat for Refugees under the Protection of the League of Nations (1938-1946) and of the League Inter-Governmental Committee for Refugees (1939-1947) after their closure was allocated to the International Refugee Organisation (IRO) based in Geneva (1947-1952). Archives of this institution also had a particular history. Initially, those archives were transferred to National Archives in Paris. From there, the personnel files of the IRO were taken out and transferred for and by the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to the Registry, Records and Mailing Section of the United Nations Office in Geneva (UNOG). In 1965 original documents relating to the liquidation of the IRO were destroyed, while certain documents were sent to the International Tracing Service, an institution associated with the International Committee of the Red Cross in Bad Arolsen, Germany. In 1995 personnel and several other IRO files together with a small number of United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) files, which never left Geneva for Paris, were transferred to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Archives in Geneva. The remaining main body of the documents of the IOR is now kept at the National Archives in Paris. The main fonds of the UNRRA (1943-1947) are currently held at the United Nations Archives and Records Management Section of the United Nations Headquarters in New York. At last, the UNHCR office in Geneva maintains its own archives.