UN refugee agency launches US$1 billion 2004 appeal
GENEVA, Dec 5 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency said on Friday that it was seeking over $1 billion to fund its refugee assistance and protection work next year to care for more than 20.5 million refugees and other people worldwide. This includes $955 million for its annual budget and over $57 million for supplementary programmes for the Liberian crisis and Sudanese refugees.
UNHCR will present its Global Appeal 2004 to donors on 8 December at a pledging conference in Geneva. The refugee agency's budget is mainly funded by voluntary contributions from donor countries. Only $25 million is allocated from the UN's regular budget.
Over the last two years, the refugee agency has received increasing commitments of support at its annual pledging conferences. Early pledges for its 2002 budget totalled $267 million, while a year ago the agency received initial pledges of $317 million for its 2003 programmes, indicating steadily increasing levels of donor confidence.
Early commitments of funds enhance predictability and help UNHCR to better implement its activities and spending. UNHCR is still experiencing a shortfall of $51.2 million in its current year $930 million annual budget and special programmes for Afghanistan, Iraq and Africa.
In his foreword to the appeal document, High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers stressed that UNHCR's 2004 budget is resource-based, meaning that the agency is seeking funds based on its expectations of contributions. It does not address the true needs of the many millions of individuals under its care.
More than a third of the refugee agency's 2004 budget will go for repatriation and refugee assistance in Africa, where UNHCR cares for more than 3.3 million people, some of them exiled since wars erupted in their homelands more than 30 years ago.
"In Africa, we will focus on the repatriation of refugees to Sierra Leone, Angola and Eritrea," Lubbers said in the appeal. "In addition to ongoing protection and assistance activities, we will respond to new emergencies, including the plight of some 65,000 refugees who recently fled to Chad from Sudan."
One beacon of hope on Africa's horizon is the situation in Sudan, where negotiations are underway to end that country's two-decade-long civil war. UNHCR plans to open additional offices in Sudan to help some of the country's 570,000 refugees in neighbouring countries to return home. For that massive repatriation operation, the refugee agency will seek additional funds beyond the $18.5 million initially budgeted, once negotiations reach fruition and a peace agreement is signed.
"Unresolved refugee situations in a number of countries continue to put enormous demands on UNHCR," Lubbers noted. Protracted refugee groups on the African continent include Burundian refugees who fled in 1972 and 1994, Western Saharan refugees now in their 28th year of exile, and Somalis who fled civil war beginning in the late 1980s.
In 2004, Afghanistan will remain the agency's single largest operation worldwide, and programmes to fund returns as well as shelter, water and other assistance activities will continue. UNHCR is budgeting some $132 million for projects in Afghanistan and the seven neighbouring states to finance repatriation and assist the remaining refugees. Since early 2002, the agency has helped some 3 million Afghan refugees and displaced persons to go back to their communities.
While the situation in Iraq remains precarious and only small numbers of the more than 3 million refugees and other exiles have so far opted to go back, UNHCR will help individuals who seek to spontaneously return, target assistance to help some 600,000 displaced persons and aid the country's 100,000 mainly Palestinian, Iranian and Turkish refugees. It will also work to build the capacity of the Iraqi authorities.
The refugee situation in Latin America, where Colombia's civil war continues to disrupt the lives of millions, is also a major focus for the aid agency.
"In the Americas, the humanitarian situation in Colombia remains of great concern with over two million internally displaced and an increasing number of refugees in the region," Lubbers warned. Some $25 million is slated for the agency's work in the Western Hemisphere.
In Southeastern Europe, the refugee agency will assist returning refugees and boost reconciliation and stability efforts. Some $48 million is sought for operations in the Balkans.
In South Asia, the refugee agency also plans to assist more than 500,000 people in Sri Lanka. They include 200,000 internally displaced people who are expected to go back to their homes, 1,400 Sri Lankan Tamils who will return from neighbouring India and 340,000 other Sri Lankans benefiting from various UNHCR-funded programmes.
Ending the long exile of Bhutanese in Nepal is another challenge the agency plans to tackle in 2004.
"In Nepal, we will move forward with the initiative to find solutions for over 100,000 Bhutanese people who remain in camps and to assist, as far as our mandate allows, the two concerned governments in this regard," Lubbers noted.
Some 20 percent of the refugee agency's annual budget goes to support the work of national and international non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Over the last ten years, UNHCR has provided more than $4.5 billion to its partners, with two-thirds going to NGOs.