Citing a sharp drop in asylum applications in Europe, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) last night called on the continent’s leaders to invest more in UNHCR programmes to repatriate hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees.
In a speech given on Thursday night at the One World Media Awards in London, High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers said European leaders – who are set to discuss immigration and asylum issues at a meeting in Spain next week – should recognize the value of addressing displacement through a well-funded and effective UNHCR.
“What was once a road to refuge is fast becoming a road to return in Afghanistan – and the effects are being felt all the way to Europe,” said Mr. Lubbers. “Today, we have new asylum statistics for the first quarter of 2002 that show a sharp drop over the previous quarter in Afghans seeking asylum in Europe – down 33 per cent across the continent as a whole, and 24 per cent within the European Union.”
In less than four months, the refugee agency has helped nearly 1 million Afghans return to their devastated homeland. The size and speed of the repatriation has prompted UNHCR to increase its projections for Afghan returns this year from 1.25 million to 2 million.
At the same time, the agency is warning that funding for the Afghan operation has not kept pace with the enormous needs. Only $185 million of the $271 million needed for the effort has been received so far.
The High Commissioner said the budget shortfall was forcing cutbacks in work that contributes to security and stability in Afghanistan. “Without it, Afghans may once again conclude they've been abandoned,” he warned. “Then we could see that graph of Afghans arriving in Europe start to go up once more.”