UNHCR faces funding crisis in the Caucasus

Press Releases, 7 June 1996

A funding crisis threatens to disrupt important UNHCR programmes for over 1.1 million refugees and displaced people in Georgia and Azerbaijan, and 92,000 people displaced people from Chechnya in the Russian Federation, the agency warned Friday.

Director for Europe John Horekens said that UNHCR now has financial reserves of less than $10,000 for its programmes in Azerbaijan, and less than $20,000 for programmes in Georgia.

The ongoing UNHCR emergency operation for people displaced from Chechnya, and who have fled to the Russian republics of Ingushetia, Daghestan and North Ossetia, has uncommitted reserves of only $252,000 enough, Horekens said, to cover operations through July.

"Unless significant contributions are made in support of these activities, UNHCR will very soon be unable to commit any further funds," Horekens said. "The implications for the people who rely on our aid could be enormous. We once again urgently request governments to dig into their pockets."

Azerbaijan shelters some 230,000 refugees and over 660,000 internally displaced persons, most of them forced to flee as a result of the war in Nagorno-Karabakh. There are 280,000 internally displaced people in Georgia, who were forced to flee homes in the regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia because of conflicts there. UNHCR has requested US$16 million to cover 1996 operations in both countries. To date it has received US$5.3 million.

"UNHCR's programmes in the southern Caucasus focus on helping these often desperately poor people to become more self-reliant," Horekens said. "We're running projects to improve the shelter of the most vulnerable displaced families, and to increase their capacity to earn a living, by providing seeds and tools and the means to create small businesses. The main impact of these projects is in the Spring. If we don't have the money now, that could mean a year's delay. There's a significant political momentum towards finding solutions to the problems in the region, but it has to be accompanied by concrete humanitarian assistance or the whole process could be hurt. Failure to help will mean more uncertainty and despair, and much less hope for the whole area."

UNHCR also faces acute funding difficulties for its programme to help some 92,000 people who have fled the ongoing crisis in Chechnya (Russian Federation) for refuge in the Russian republics of Daghestan, Ingushetia and North Ossetia. An appeal for US$6.5 million to cover UNHCR's 1996 programmes has so far yielded only US$1.5 million, Horekens said.

"At this point we can no longer enter into agreements with implementing partners to provide services, because we simply do not have the funds to cover them," Horekens added. "Our need is urgent. We could see non-governmental organizations leaving this zone, because of the security difficulties and because we can't promise them resources. That would be disastrous. We badly need non-governmental organizations to be present on the ground."

UNHCR's aid to displaced families from Chechnya includes basic household equipment, plastic sheeting for shelter, medical kits, clothing, bedding, hygiene kits and other domestic items. Prefabricated buildings are under construction for shelter, and water, sanitation and heating projects are being implemented. Community services have been provided to the displaced persons, and schools set up. UNHCR has also supplied equipment and logistical assistance to local migration services.

On 30-31 May, UNHCR and other agencies jointly organized a conference on displacement and migration in the Commonwealth of Independent States. There, participants agreed to boost the capacity of CIS countries to manage movements of people more effectively, and with less suffering. "UNHCR's programmes in Azerbaijan, Georgia and the region around Chechnya fall squarely within the orientations that were agreed upon at that conference," said Horekens.