The Nansen Passport was the first legal instrument of international protection for refugees. It facilitated a practical solution of the problem for Russians who found themselves abroad as a result of the revolution, seeing as how they were perceived as enemies of the new order in Russia by the Bolshevik authorities. The Passports were issued by the countries where refugees resided at the time of issuance. In 1923, Nansen Passports were first issued for Armenians.

After the Nazis came to power in Germany in 1933, refugees from this country became significant and the League of Nations appointed the High Commission for Refugees from Germany, also covering refugees from Austria and Germans from Sudetenland. The Commission and the Nansen Office were later simultaneously dissolved.

Although The Nansen Office struggled to secure stable financing from the very beginning, its accomplishments included adoption of the Refugee Convention by 14 countries in 1933 (a modest charter of human rights), the successful settlement of the Saar refugees in Paraguay after 1935 and construction of villages for 40,000 Armenians in Syria and Lebanon and 10,000 resettled Armenian refugees in Erivan.

The Office provided material, legal and financial aid to nearly one million refugees. It was financed from private donations and administrative fees for passport issuance. Another source of funding were stamps and postcards for the aid of refugees sold in France and Norway. The Nansen postcards became a moving documentation of the victims of the Russian famine.