Sudan: UN refugee agency facing new ‘critical’ funding shortfall

Sudan: UN refugee agency facing new ‘critical’ funding shortfall

The United Nations refugee agency today reported another critical shortfall in its funding for Sudan, this time threatening its reintegration operations to help the South recover from two decades of civil war, just a week after announcing that its aid for more than 2 million people in the strife-torn western Darfur region was imperilled.

“The funding situation is so dire that transportation of refugees back home from camps in neighbouring countries to Sudan, due to pick up pace again soon after the rainy season ends, may not be able to go ahead, defeating the purpose of our work in South Sudan,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis told a news briefing in Geneva of the $11.1 million shortfall.

“We are urgently calling on donors to come forward with funds to help keep this operation going. Our aim this year was to facilitate the return and reintegration of 102,000 Sudanese refugees and some 25,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) but without further funds, this number will certainly be limited,” she added.

So far this year, UNHCR has helped 42,000 refugees to return, and along with other agencies assisted 12,000 IDPs. Southern Sudan remains extensively devastated and under-developed more than two years after a peace accord in 2005 between Government and rebel forces ended a 20-year war that uprooted over 4 million civilians in and outside the country.

There are still 260,000 registered Sudanese refugees in exile with the majority (216,000) living in UNHCR camps in Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia.

UNHCR’s 2007 budget for the Southern Sudan operation is $56.1 million, but only $45 million has been received. “In September, lack of funds forced us to stop buying ahead basic assistance items which we usually distribute to returnees to help them settle back in their communities of origin,” Ms. Pagonis said. The items include plastic sheeting for shelter, blankets, sleeping mats, soap, jerry cans, hygiene cloth for women, mosquito nets and cooking sets.

With the end of the rains in the coming weeks, repatriation operations are set to increase, with 22,000 refugees expected to return to south-eastern Sudan by December. “However, if we don’t receive funding very soon, we will not be able to repatriate them nor provide them with minimum assistance upon return,” Ms. Pagonis stressed.

“Our programmes to build and rehabilitate basic facilities, such as schools, health centres and boreholes, and our de-mining activities in those return areas will also be seriously hampered,” she added. So far, 68,000 refugees have returned home with UNHCR help since the launch of the voluntary repatriation operation in December 2005. Some 92,000 more returned by their own means.

Last week the agency announced that a shortfall of over $7 million was threatening its efforts to aid some of the more than 2 million IDPs and thousands of Chadian refugees in Darfur, where the conflict between the Government, allied militias and various rebel forces is still raging. Ms. Pagonis said then that UNHCR might be compelled to scale down existing operations there if it did not receive additional funding very soon.