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Early pledges for 2003 UNHCR budget reach $317 million

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Early pledges for 2003 UNHCR budget reach $317 million

3 December 2002

GENEVA - Donor governments on Tuesday pledged another $280 million towards UNHCR's worldwide programmes for 2003, bringing the total promised contributions to date to a record $317 million. This amounts to nearly one-third of the refugee agency's 2003 total projected needs of more than $1 billion.

The new funds were announced during UNHCR's annual pledging conference in Geneva in response to the agency's 2003 Global Appeal covering refugee needs worldwide. Even though the pledges cover only a third of the overall requirements, they are seen as a good early signal of donor support.

"These initial pledges are higher than ever and they are generally more flexible - a sign that the donors heeded our call for early pledges with less earmarking for specific regions," said Anne Willem Bijleveld, UNHCR's Director of Communications and Information. "We are particularly pleased to see a widening of our traditional donor base, with contributions announced for the first time by some Central European countries."

Africa tops UNHCR's funding needs for 2003, with a total of $325 million. The largest portion of the amount is destined for the East and Horn of Africa ($112.8 million), followed by West Africa ($84.8 million), the Great Lakes ($82.5 million) and Southern ($38 million) and North Africa ($6.7 million).

Addressing the pledging conference, High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers noted that "large numbers of displaced persons have returned to their homes" in Eritrea and Sierra Leone over the past year. Looking to next year, Lubbers added, there are hopeful signs that many more will soon be returning to Angola. "Ensuring their effective reintegration and helping them to rebuild their lives will not be an easy task," he said.

UNHCR's 2003 funding appeal includes the agency's $836.3 million annual budget, as well as a number of supplementary programmes that cover an array of humanitarian needs from Afghanistan and Angola to Liberia, Côte d'Ivoire and Sri Lanka.

The largest chunk of supplementary funding will go to UNHCR's operations in and around Afghanistan. The agency is still working with the Afghan government to finalise this portion of the budget. Lubbers told the conference that more than 2 million Afghans have gone home since the UNHCR-assisted repatriation operation began in March 2002. He said UNHCR is preparing for the return of an estimated 1.2 million more Afghan refugees next year.

But the High Commissioner warned that if the momentum is to continue, the international community must not lose interest in Afghanistan.

"We will gradually have to shift the emphasis from repatriation to reintegration and reconstruction in Afghanistan if those who have gone home are to stay home - and if others are to follow," he said.

Reviewing UNHCR's overall financial situation this year, Lubbers said UNHCR still faces a 2002 shortfall of about $25 million despite a string of cost-cutting and austerity measures introduced over the past year. "There is an urgent need to receive this amount," he said.