UN refugee agency says funding crisis may force cuts in operations
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today warned that a severe funding crisis could force the agency to halt a number of its operations unless donor governments provide immediate funding.
To get through the remainder of 2002, UNHCR still needs $80 million to maintain at least minimum standards for refugees under its annual budget, which swelled this year to meet Afghanistan’s extensive needs. While the Afghanistan programme has been fully funded, others – particularly in Africa – are suffering. Faced with a tepid donor response, the agency has already slashed some $92 million from the annual budget.
“These cuts have been extremely painful and have affected refugees and our work on their behalf around the world,” said High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers. “Amid growing needs, UNHCR is struggling to meet the minimum requirements of millions of refugees.”
In a letter to top donor governments last week, UNHCR warned that without new contributions, it would be unable to fund field operations for the coming two months. According to agency officials, this “hand–to–mouth” situation has led to frustration among field staff and leaves the agency with little or no cushion to deal with any new emergencies.
While the biggest refugee operations are currently in Africa, the shortfall is being felt globally, agency spokesman Ron Redmond said. “Affected programmes range from water, health, education and agricultural projects for Eritrean refugees and a reduction in security in Tanzanian camps to cuts in the provision of winter clothes for children in the Caucasus and the cancellation of a planned relocation of refugees in Thailand and Papua New Guinea currently staying in insecure border regions,” he said.
UNHCR’s 5,000 staff help nearly 20 million refugees and others of concern in 114 countries. More than 80 per cent of the agency’s staff serve in the field, mostly in difficult and often dangerous areas.