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Under-funding forces UN refugee agency to cut back, refocus

Under-funding forces UN refugee agency to cut back, refocus

The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) announced today a 14 per cent reduction of its budget for 2002 through a stringent prioritization exercise aimed at refocusing its core activities, bringing down spending and ultimately improving funding.

The best estimates for 2002 now show a budgetary target of $825 million, which is equivalent to the projected income for the year, the agency said in a statement issued today in Geneva. Compared with this year's initial budget of $954.9 million, it represents a reduction of $130 million, or about 14 per cent. "What we have done is painful but absolutely necessary to make UNHCR a better focused, leaner and ultimately a better funded organization," said High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers, the architect of the plan.

UNHCR noted that some of the savings required reductions in the number of posts and the scaling back of field operations. But considerable savings also stem from the long-planned phasing down of the organization's involvement in certain regions of the world, such as East Timor and the Balkans.

Under the plan, the overall number of UNHCR posts is expected to go down from 4,828 today to 4,065 by the end of next year. The net result is the abolishment of 939 posts, offset by the creation of 174 new posts in areas vital for the agency's operations.

One vital part of the plan in the mid-term is to improve the funding of UNHCR's programmes. Although the agency's annual budget has been approved each year by its 57-nation Executive Committee, the OK for the budget has not necessarily meant that the very same governments come up with the funds. Indeed, over the last few years, the organization has endured annual shortfalls. "When our stakeholders give us a job to do, they also have to make sure we have the adequate resources," Mr. Lubbers said.

In other news, UNHCR today welcomed last week's approval by the European Union of a Directive on a European regime of temporary protection in the event of a mass influx of displaced persons, noting that it was in agreement with almost all aspects of the Directive.

Commenting on the measures aimed at controlling undocumented arrivals into the European Union by imposing stiff sanctions on those facilitating such arrivals, UNHCR said it was essential that any such measures be administered "with sensitivity and flexibility, lest they inadvertently obstruct refugees and asylum-seekers from reaching safety."